“[Andreas Münzer] is a perfect example of having a good balance between tremendous definition and tremendous size…very rarely do you see that.”
– Arnold Schwarzenegger, Arnold Classic, 1996. (1)
Freakish physiques often define bodybuilding. Who can be the biggest? Who can be the leanest? And, more importantly, who can hit that right mix of both? In a sport where everyone is pushing toward the extremes, it’s difficult for any athlete to break away from the pack. Andreas Münzer did just that.
Known for his peeled physique, Münzer’s rippling striations were a hallmark whenever he posed on stage. He was like a walking, flexing chart of the human muscle system, with nearly every individual fiber visibly accounted for. But unlike other bodybuilders who allowed themselves to take their foot off the gas in the off-season, Münzer maintained his peak conditioning year-round. (2)
In the end, that pursuit of the ultimate physique — brought to life through heavy use of steroids and diuretics — proved too taxing to maintain, and Münzer died in 1996 at the age of 31.
Since his death, Münzer’s extreme conditioning earned him cult status in bodybuilding circles. Even mainstream news outlets took notice. In 2015, ABC.com ran a story on him where he was described as the bodybuilding legend who died with “almost zero body fat,” perfectly summing up the legacy he left behind. (3)
What’s missing from these conversations is a portrait of Münzer’s life as an introverted competitor who dreamed of etching his name alongside the best in the sport.
Münzer’s Early Life
The common refrain in stories about Münzer is that he had an unassuming nature. (2)(4) But within that introverted personality was a singular goal: to be a bodybuilder like his idol, Arnold Schwarzenegger.
The desire to look like Arnold was not, of course, unique to Münzer. From the release of the documentary Pumping Iron in 1977 to the present day, Arnold has served as a point of inspiration for athletes worldwide. What made Münzer’s admiration special were the similarities the two shared.
Arnold was born in Thal, Austria, on July 30, 1947. Münzer was born in Pack, Austria, less than 30 miles from Thal, on October 25, 1964. Both areas were relatively quiet, and, in both instances, bodybuilding became an escape.
Speaking to the German news magazine Der Spiegel in the wake of Münzer’s death, his father and older sister described him as a shy boy who was always on hand to help on the family’s dairy farm. (4) His father called Andreas “always sensible” and reserved, but, as his sister made clear, he was also laser-focused and determined when it came to sports like soccer and skiing.
Münzer’s involvement in bodybuilding started when he took up a toolmaking apprenticeship as a teenager in Köflach, a town roughly five miles from his home. (4) He depended on the local bus service for his commute, but the problem was that the first bus home came two hours after he finished work. Seeking to use his time productively, Münzer joined a local fitness studio to improve his health.
According to Münzer’s parents, and in a story retold by journalist Jon Hotten in his book Muscle, he had a natural ability to put on mass quickly and soon took to bodybuilding. (5) He won local Austrian competitions, first as a junior and then as an adult.
By 1986, Münzer appeared in international contests like the IFBB European Amateur Championships and, the following year, the IFBB World Amateur Championships, where he finished third two years in a row. He split his time between competing and running the Fitneßclub Florida Köflach gym, which he opened with a friend in 1986. (5)
With a reputation on the rise, Münzer soon caught the attention of Albert Busek, who hired Münzer to work in his gym. In addition to being a gym owner, Busek was an influential bodybuilding entrepreneur in Germany and, famously, one of Schwarzenegger’s early promoters.
In the words of Der Spiegal, Busek “leads the bodybuilders much like Ron Hubbard leads the Scientologists.” (4) The promoter ingratiated Münzer into the broader bodybuilding scene and got him on the cover of FLEX magazine in 1990, the first time Münzer appeared on the front of a magazine.
A Rising Star
Competitively, Münzer’s incredible leanness and muscularity on stage stood out. In a piece written after Münzer’s death, the late bodybuilding journalist Peter McGough described Münzer’s skin texture as “paper-thin” and called him “arguably the most conditioned bodybuilder of his or any other era.” (2)
While other bodybuilders typically regained body fat after a show, Münzer stayed in contest shape throughout the year. At his heaviest, he still only got within 15 pounds of his typical competition weight of 200 to 220 pounds. (2) That allowed him to focus on getting as freakishly cut and vascular as possible before a show without having to remove layers of fat first.
Getting that lean, however, came at a cost. According to Hotten, Münzer’s pre-contest diet ritual revolved around relatively low calories for an athlete (around 2,000) and generous use of diuretics like Aldactone and Lasix. (5) This, combined with a bodybuilder’s strict training regimen, was a tragedy in the making.
Münzer’s Final Days
Hotten wrote poignantly about the pain Münzer endured toward the end of his life. Joint and muscle pain from training are typical for any competitor, but in late 1995, a new pain emerged in Münzer’s stomach. Though he complained to friends, he nevertheless pushed on.
In March 1996, Münzer traveled to Columbus, OH, for the Arnold Classic. There, he was praised by Arnold for his leanness but simultaneously critiqued for his imbalances. At the end of the show, Münzer finished sixth. A few days later, he competed in the IFBB San Jose Pro Invitational, only taking seventh.
Two weeks after stepping on stage at the Arnold, Münzer was dead. Blood vessels in his stomach had ruptured, and he was rushed to surgery. Despite the efforts of the doctors, he died soon afterward at the age of 31. (2)
Bodybuilding’s Controversial Decade
Münzer’s death came during a time of increased scrutiny over drugs in bodybuilding. In 1990, the Arnold Classic and Mr. Olympia competitions, the two biggest contests in the sport, initiated a strict drug testing policy for the first time. And it turned out that the tests worked: Multiple competitors were disqualified right before the Olympia, and at the Arnold, champion Shawn Ray was stripped of his first-place crown following his failed test.
That said, drug testing proved unpopular with fans and athletes alike. The competitors looked like shells of themselves on stage, and by the following year, the testing disappeared, and the mass monsters had returned.
In 1992, the death of Mohammed Benaziza, who finished fifth at that year’s Mr. Olympia, rocked the sport yet again. As McGough explained, Benaziza’s diuretic use likely contributed to extreme dehydration, which, uninterrupted, led to a heart attack. (6)
Benaziza’s friend, Porter Cottrell, later noted, “[Mohammed] was trying to fulfill a dream, but he took it too far.”
Two years later, at the 1994 Arnold Classic, bodybuilder Paul Dillet “froze” on stage with cramps and had to be carried off by handlers. The conclusion was that he suffered from severe dehydration due to diuretic use. (7) Writing on the incident, McGough linked it to reckless drug use within the sport: (8)
“It can be argued that whatever torment Paul Dillett had endured, he inflicted it upon himself […] during the last two years, there has been a succession of bodybuilding casualties of varying degrees due to the demon of excessive water depletion. In the hunger for glory, competitors are willing to up the ante to any level in pursuit of first place. It seems the groundswell of pushing athletes to ever more arid levels is growing alarmingly.”
It wasn’t until 1996, after Münzer’s death, that the Mr. Olympia seriously started testing athletes for diuretics, according to McGough. (8) At that year’s show, bodybuilder Nasser El Sonbaty, who placed third, was disqualified days later when his failed test results came in. (The testing policies would again loosen over the years.) (9) Still, bodybuilding’s reputation in the mainstream continued to suffer.
Joe Weider later told Fred “Dr. Squat” Hatfield that his brother, Ben Weider, was attempting to gain acceptance into the Olympics during the mid-’90s. But by that time, the sport’s image was damaged by all these incidents, with Weider specifically mentioning Münzer’s passing as one of the main pain points. (10)
“It’s like the devil is following my brother,” Weider said. “Now, wherever my brother goes, he has everyone recounting how Münzer died from drugs.”
What Caused Andreas Münzer’s Death?
In 2006, then doctoral researcher Luitpold Kistler wrote a dissertation examining the autopsies of 10 known users of anabolic steroids, and Münzer was one of the subjects. (11)
Faced with the actual autopsy, we don’t know for sure how much body fat Münzer had when he died. While internet chatter claims he sat around zero percent, the autopsy only states Münzer had an “extremely muscular physique” and “almost no subcutaneous fat.”
But nearly every professional bodybuilder would likely be described as having “almost no” subcutaneous fat, which is the fat underneath the skin visible to the naked eye. There’s no way of knowing how much more or less fat Münzer had compared with the average competitor.
A 1990 study in the Journal of the American College of Nutrition — conducted in the middle of Münzer’s career — found that the average body fat for 19 competitive male bodybuilders at the time stood at 6% on stage, with a variation of 1.8% on either side. This means that the lowest percentage found hovered just above 4%. (12)
In terms of his cause of death, the autopsy pointed to multi-organ failure as the culprit. Münzer’s excessive use of anabolics likely caused the enlargement of several organs and the shrinking of his testes. The autopsy also included distressing images of his atrophied, tumor-riddled liver and an enlarged heart weighing 636 grams (1.4 pounds). The average weight of an adult male heart is around 331 grams (.73 pounds). (13)
What caused such distortion to Münzer’s organs? Hotten points to a cocktail of bodybuilding drugs, including daily testosterone injections, oral steroids, and the generous use of human growth hormone. Münzer also used insulin “to stimulate his metabolism” and the aforementioned diuretics in the days before a show. (5)
As Hotten notes, bodybuilding is a sport of extremes, and because of that, it inevitably attracts extreme individuals. Münzer happened to be one of them. Though noted for being reserved, kind, and warm to friends, he also exhibited a unique passion and drive for the sport that ultimately pushed him past his limits.
His aim was to be the best, to be the next Arnold. Unfortunately, like so many bodybuilding stories before and since, his ultimate destination was an all-too-familiar one.
- ‘Andreas Münzer – Arnold Classic,’ Dom Motivation. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=d6S4VNpnydA
- McGough, Peter, ‘The Tragedy of Andreas Munzer,’ Muscle & Fitness, https://www.muscleandfitness.com/athletes-celebrities/news/tragedy-andreas-m-nzer/.
- NePorent, Liz, ‘Why Legendary Bodybuilder Who Died on with Almost Zero Body Fat Lives On.’ ABC News, March 25, 2017. https://abcnews.go.com/Health/legendary-bodybuilder-died-body-fat-lives/story?id=29899438
- ‘Blond, stark und tot,’ Der Spiegal, 21 April, 1996. https://www.spiegel.de/politik/blond-stark-und-tot-a-c3b5b892-0002-0001-0000-000008910978
- Hotten, Jon. Muscle: A Writer’s Trip Through a Sport With No Boundaries. Random House, 2011, 76.
- McGough, Peter. ‘Momo’s Last Moments,’ Muscular Development, May 11 2017. https://www.musculardevelopment.com/news/the-mcgough-report/16005-momo-s-last-moments-porter-cottrell-does-cpr-graphic-content.html
- McGough, Peter. ‘Paul Dillet’s Collapse at the 1994 Arnold Classic,’ Muscular Development, January 29, 2015. https://www.musculardevelopment.com/news/the-mcgough-report/13898-paul-dillet-s-collapse-at-the-1994-arnold-classic.html
- McGough, Peter. ‘Nasser El Sonbaty Fails 1996 Mr. O Drug Test,’ Muscular Development, January 7, 2016. https://www.musculardevelopment.com/mdtv/photoshoots/14845-throwback-thursday-nasser-el-sonbaty-fails-1996-mr-o-drug-test.html
- Liokaftos, Dimitris. A Genealogy of Male Bodybuilding, Taylor & Francis, 2017
- Dr. Squat, ‘An interview with Joe Weider,’ Bodybuilding.com, January 18, 2019. https://www.bodybuilding.com/fun/drsquat4.htm
- Kistler, Luitpold. “Todesfälle bei Anabolikamissbrauch. Todesursache, Befunde und rechtsmedizinische Aspekte.” PhD diss., lmu, 2006.
- Bazzarre, Terry L., Susan M. Kleiner, and Mary D. Litchford. “Nutrient intake, body fat, and lipid profiles of competitive male and female bodybuilders.” Journal of the American College of Nutrition 9.2 (1990): 136-142.
- Molina, D. Kimberley, and Vincent JM DiMaio. “Normal organ weights in men: part I—the heart.” The American Journal of Forensic Medicine and Pathology 33.4 (2012): 362-367.
Featured Image: @_andreasmunzer on Instagram