Two-time Mr. Olympia and inaugural World’s Strongest Man competitor Franco Columbu passed away on August 30th in Italy. According to VistaNet, Columbu died as a result of an accident at sea. As of this writing, no other details were shared.
Columbu was accomplished in multiple sports. Born in Italy in 1941, he began his athletic career as a boxer, having won the featherweight championship of Italy as an amateur. He would go on to pursue Olympic weightlifting and powerlifting. His career bests in powerlifting were a 655 pound squat, 540 pound bench press, and 755 pound deadlift. He competed in the 90 kg class throughout most of his powerlifting career.
Once he transitioned to bodybuilding, he found his greatest success and was considered a pioneer for shorter and smaller bodybuilders. He won numerous titles in his bodybuilding career including the IFBB Mr. Universe and IFBB Mr. Olympia twice. He won in 1976 and 1981, becoming the second man to win the title in non-consecutive years. The first was Arnold Schwarzenegger. Those two came to America around the same time in the late 1960’s, having met in powerlifting and bodybuilding competitions while in Europe. They would go on to be lifelong friends.
In response to Columbu’s passing, longtime friend Arnold Schwarzenegger had the following to say: “I love you Franco. I will always remember the joy you brought to my life, the advices you gave me, and the twinkle in your eye that never disappeared. You were my best friend.”
“Franco Columbo has died, suddenly. I’m so sorry for this terrible loss, he was loving and he was loved by everyone….especially by his best friend, Arnold. He will be missed. May he rest in the Lord’s peace.” – Rachel McLish, 1st Ms. Olympia
“I am sad to get the news that my boyhood hero and bodybuilding icon @francocolumbu has passed away at the age of 78 from a boating accident. He was one of the bodybuilders to inspire me being of shorter height and Italian. Franco had one of the best lat spread and was known for his strength. #rip”, Rich Gaspari, 1st Arnold Classic Champion
Columbu would also make appearances at events being billed as the strongest man in the world. His athletic career would conclude by being involved in the inaugural World’s Strongest Man contest in 1977. He finished 5th overall but injured his leg during the refrigerator run event.
Columbu would retire from competitions and go on to become a renowned chiropractor. He also was a part of a few movie and TV projects. Out of the 14 Mr. Olympia winners, he’s the third to have died, following first champion Larry Scott and second champion Sergio Oliva Sr. He is survived by his wife, Deborah, and daughter, Maria.
Featured Image: @francocolumbu on Instagram