Apr 1, 2015

Bob Paris: The World's First Out Gay Bodybuilder

 I started working for Joe Weider's Muscle and Fitness in  July 1985.   Bob Paris was on the cover.

We had a lot in common: he was one year older than me, grew up in Columbus, Indiana (near where my parents live today), attended Indiana University, and escaped to the gay haven of West Hollywood.  Originally he intended to become an actor, but he soon found his way into the world of competitive bodybuilding.

He won many competitions, including Mr. Southern California in 1981, and both Mr. America and Mr. Universe in 1983.

I met him sometime in 1986 -- we never dated, but I learned that he was gay.

He came out publicly in July 1989, in an interview in Iron Man, by mentioning his lover, fellow bodybuilder (and Playgirl model) Rod Jackson, whom he had just married in a Unitarian service.

No professional bodybuilder had ever come out before.  Actually, no professional athlete in any sport had ever come out during his career.

His friends advised him to stay closeted, but he was optimistic that, with all of the gay people working in bodybuilding and all of the gay fans, there would be no problem.

But there were lots of problems. His career didn't exactly end -- he continued to compete through 1991 -- but he lost a huge amount of business, including advertising tie-ins, and extensive homophobic harassment, including death threats.

But many fellow bodybuilders and fans applauded Bob's decision to come out.  Even the rather homophobic Joe Weider put him on the cover of Muscle and Fitness three times in 1990 -- the "Sexual Response" tag near Bob's crotch wasn't an accident.

In 1991 Bob and Rod retired from bodybuilding to concentrate on being the most famous gay couple in the world.  Eventually the stress of having to be perfect all the time put a strain on their relationship, and they broke up.

Rod has been busily acting, writing, and advocating for gay rights, especially gay marriage.   He has published several books on fitness, plus fiction, poetry, and two autobiographies: Straight from the Heart: A Love Story (with Rod) and Gorilla Suit: My Adventures in Bodybuilding.

He has appeared frequently in theatrical productions in Los Angeles and elsewhere, including the Broadway musical Jubilee.

Today Bob lives on an island near Vancouver, British Columbia, with his second spouse, Brian LeFurgey.

He continues to act, write, and inspire a new generation of bodybuilders, gay and straight.

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