"I never wanted to sit back and say I am hard of hearing and I can never be a policeman like my father or a fireman where you need perfect hearing."(1)
Lou Ferrigno was born in Brooklyn, New York on Novermber 9th, 1952, son of a New York policeman. While he was an infant, he was stricken with an ear infection that went untreated, and claimed around 85% of his hearing ability. This led to a hearing-impaired speech impediment, as well as countless nicknames like “dumb Louie” and merciless schoolyard taunts and beatings. Perhaps it was this that led him to begin bodybuilding at the age of 16. It is said that Lou found great inspiration in comic book superheroes at that time, and he was fascinated with the tales of muscles and power. "I would pull my hearing aid out and completely tune out the rest of the world and fantasize that these super-heroes were me."(4)
By 1973, Lou was setting major records, becoming the youngest man to ever be named “Mr. Universe” at 21. The next year, he set another one, becoming the first man to win this esteemed competition two years in a row. Lou then went on to play in the Canadian Football League for the Toronto Argonauts, while continuing to keep up with bodybuilding and competion. While training and competing in the 1975 Mr. Olympia competition, Lou took part in a documentary that would elevate the sport of bodybuilding, and Lou’s fame, to new heights. That movie, released in January of 1977, was called Pumping Iron, and it gave a candid look at Lou Ferrigno and the star, Arnold Schwarzenegger. In an interview with Iron Age magazine discussing the movie, the creator, George Butler, has this to say of Lou:
“Well, when you make a film like Pumping Iron you've got to put a good story together and I had a keen insight into Louie’s relationship with his father and I knew that he was the perfect bodybuilder to set up as the guy who could, or might, knock off Arnold. And the contrast was perfect. Louie worked out in a small, dark gym in Brooklyn that was actually R&J Health Club which was owned by a man named Julie Levine. And Gold’s Gym in California was the exact opposite. Louie would work out in these tiny little rooms with one person around him and his father and Arnold would work out in a gym in California that had its doors open, was wide open, right on the beach. And it was light and airy and Louie’s was dark. Louie was dark and brooding. Arnold was blond and big and beachy and stuff like that. But both men are sons of policemen, and I found that very interesting and I’m sure Arnold subconsciously registered that. So the film set up this wonderful contest between these two men, and of course Louie was 6'5" and he's a giant, really.”(1)
Pumping Iron brought Lou a huge burst of newfound fame. When Nick Cohn wrote a movie called “Saturday Night Fever”, he based the Italian family, John Travolta’s family on Lou Ferrigno and his family in the Pumping Iron Film. 1976 brought a retirement from bodybuilding as competition, and a new acting role that would come to define him for the rest of his life. Pumping Iron maker George Butler says that on one of the outtake reels of the film, Lou exclaims, “All I want to be is the Hulk”. Getting his way, he took the non-speaking part of The Hulk in the CBS series The Incredible Hulk, playing alongside Bill Bixby. The show ran from 1976 to 1981, as well as several made for tv movies in the 80’s and early 90’s. Ferrigno said of the show “I had a blast. I felt great”. To this day, Lou is still known as “The Hulk” to the world, even after many other roles, and his successful return to competitive bodybuilding in 1992 at the amazing age of 40 in the Mr. Olympia contest. And you can look for him in Ang Lee's 2003 blockbuster The Hulk, where he plays a security guard alongside Hulk originator and Marvel Comics legend Stan Lee.
Lou continues to act in TV and movies to this day, as well as speak at schools and events for the deaf, where he is a true inspiration. For instance, while speaking at The Clarke School for Deaf Students recently, a young student inquired if Mr. Ferrigno's hearing aid batteries had ever died while he was acting.
Ferrigno said they had, and that he simply said to co-workers, "Excuse me, I have to change the battery." Turning the question into a teaching moment, Ferrigno said, "It sounds like a simple thing, but it takes a lot of guts to do that," because announcing a battery problem calls attention to one's deafness.(3)
Even now, at 51 years old, Mr. Ferrigno is still in impeccable shape. If sculpting his body as the pinnacle of bodybuilding
perfection can be said to be his life goal, then no one can claim that he has fallen short. And who among us can say that we have set a goal for our lives and achieved it in every way?
1 - http://ironage.us/articles/butler.html
2 - http://www.louferrigno.com
3 - http://www.clarkeschool.org/lou_ferrigno.htm
4 - http://www.pumpingironvideo.com