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Bodybuilding Deaths 2021
Throughout this past year, we’ve shared the news far too often of great names in the bodybuilding community that has passed away. Anytime we hear of another fitness icon that has passed, it seems to tear away a piece of us that just can’t be replaced. We just want to take a moment to pay our respects to those that have touched our lives in a special way.
Known as "The Blonde Bomber", Dave Draper died on the morning of Nov. 30, 2021, at the age of 79. Draper’s wife, Laree Draper, confirmed his passing in a post on social media that day.
“Hi, friends, as the word's getting out, I wanted to let you know so there's no confusion. Dave died early this morning. I was with him and it was calm and peaceful. It, as his doctor told me a little while ago, was a good death.” – Laree Draper
Dave was an early starter to the sport of bodybuilding, beginning to train with make-shift weights as a kid. A Secaucus, NJ native, Draper won the Mr. New Jersey bodybuilding championship title at the age of 21. A short time later, he moved to Santa Monica, CA, and began training alongside some of bodybuilding’s greats at the Mecca of Gold’s Gym. This led to a successful career in bodybuilding, earning even more titles, such as Mr. America, Mr. Universe, Mr. World, and a fourth-place finish at the 1967 Mr. Olympia.
"Dave Draper was an inspiration to millions of people all over the world, including me. He was one of my idols," Schwarzenegger, 74, wrote on Instagram. "In Austria, I kept his cover of Muscle Builder magazine on the wall above my bed for motivation, and when I saw him starring in 'Don't Make Waves', I thought, 'My dreams are possible.'"
Dave’s incredible physique earned him a role alongside starring actress Sharon Tate, in the 1967 comedy Don’t Make Waves. He was also the author of the book Brother Iron, Sister Steel. While he went on to four more books, this is recognized as his most famous published work. And of course, there are numerous bodybuilding and fitness magazines over the years you will find his face and physique gracing the covers of.
Rhonda Lee Quaresma
On November 26, 2021, after fighting Colon cancer for three years, Canadian Women’s Physique IFBB Pro, Rhonda Lee Quaresma passed away at 52 years of age. Rhonda started her bodybuilding journey in Kingston, Ontario in 1989. She went on to win her IFBB Pro Card at the 1995 Canadian Nationals. Her IFBB Pro debut was at the Jan Tana Classic in 1998. Rhonda’s last competition was the 2016 Ferrigno Legacy Pro Show, and she then retired from bodybuilding. In 2018, she went on to pursue a career as a personal trainer, acquiring certification by the Professional Personal Trainer’s Association (PROPTA).
Rhonda’s closest friends announced her passing on her personal Instagram account, sharing the following sentiments. “My dearest friend of 30 years died last evening after a 3 year battle with colon cancer. She spent the last few years living in California and simply loved it, but she was as Canadian as they come. Her father was Native Canadian and her mother’s side lived in Canada for generations. She was half Ojibway and half English. The exterior of Rhonda was always shiny and I don’t think she would object to the word flamboyant, but the inside was soft, gentle, kind and intuitive. She touched so many people with her kindness and she had this intrinsic ability to see people, really see them and she took the time to understand them. It made for a great friend. One that I am blessed to have had for so many years. RIP my sweet soul.”
George "Da Bull" Peterson, Age 37
Less than three days before the 2021 Olympia weekend, one of the most popular stars of the 212 division tragically passed away. George "Da Bull" Peterson tragically died on October 6th at the age of 37. Peterson was found in his hotel room earlier that day. No cause of death had been announced. The news of his death was confirmed by Olympia productions in an Instagram post.
Peterson was considered a top competitor in the 212 division this year. He qualified for the Olympia thanks to his third place finish in 2020. Prior to competing in the 212, he was one of the more popular competitors in the Classic Physique division. The highlight of his career there was winning the Arnold Classic in 2019. He had placed in the top three at the Olympia in that division three straight seasons. Peterson is actually one of the few competitors to have won the same pro title in two classes. He was the Tampa Pro Classic Physique winner in 2017, and he won the 212 title in 2020.
George Butler, Age 78
Pumping Iron Filmmaker George Butler has died. George’s films helped launch the careers of Arnold Schwarzenegger, Lou Ferrigno, Franco Columbo, Mike Katz (did he ever find that T-shirt), Rachel McLish, Bev Francais, Carla Dunlop, and many other golden era bodybuilding legends. But more importantly, Pumping Iron and Pumping Iron 2 helped popularize bodybuilding and weight training to the masses.
Here’s what Arnold had to say on the passing of George: “When I think about all of the people who were responsible for the growth of bodybuilding and the sport’s crossover to the mainstream, two of the first people to come to mind are, without any doubt, George Butler and Charles Gaines. Pumping Iron, the book and the movie, drew the general public into our strange little niche sport and brought fitness and this Austrian with an unpronounceable name and a funny accent – to the masses.” -Arnold Schwarzenegger
We bought a number of Arnold photos from George, including the one used on the cover of the premiere issue of MUSCLE INSIDER! Rest in peace George.
John "Mountain Dog" Meadows, Age 49
It's extremely heartbreaking to share the news that John “Mountain Dog” Meadows passed away on August 8, 2021, at the age of 49. Not only was John a wealth of information when it came to training and supplements, but he was a dear friend of ours here at Muscle Insider. Attending bodybuilding contests and expos these days is not the same, without having the chance to catch up with John to share stories and learn what’s new. John Meadows suffered a heart attack in May of 2020, which was caused by blood clots. While he did have a lengthy stay in the hospital, he did recover and was released a short time later. While he was informed that a part of his heart wasn’t working properly at the time, he did get back to training. Later in 2020, John coached Missy Truscott to her Fitness Olympia victory, as well as Shaun Clarida to a 212 Olympia title. We managed to dig up an old interview we did with John back in 2019 at the Granite Supplements booth during the Vancouver Pro/Am. John will be missed deeply.
Jimmy Caruso, Age 95
Legendary Canadian bodybuilding photographer Jimmy Caruso passed away in his home at the age of 95. Hailing from Montreal, Quebec, Jimmy was regarded as an innovator in physique photography. He is most known for his iconic imagery of the bodybuilding greats from the Golden Era of the industry. He worked closely with Ben Weider, using his photography to help Ben build popularity in the sport of bodybuilding, and inspire millions around the world. It’s said that Jimmy was the first photographer from North America to photograph Arnold when he first landed here from Austria. Jimmy had true artistry in his photography and was a pioneer in mastering lighting techniques that captured lines and shadows to fully seize the moment in a muscular physique that is now forever frozen in time.
…You have heard me say I’m not a self-made man over and over - people like Jimmy are a big reason why… - Arnold Schwarzenegger
Jenny Lynn, Age 49
The bodybuilding world was shaken when news that two-time Ms. Olympia Figure winner Jenny Lynn died in her sleep. As often is the case, not many details were shared about just what happened, but supposedly she had a seizure in her sleep while her husband tried to resuscitate her, but he was unsuccessful. Jenny was the face of the Figure Class from 2004 to 2007 with her balance of muscle and beauty. She retired from competition in 2009 after winning 12 IFBB Pro League contests including 2 Olympia titles and 3 Arnold Classic Titles (Ms. Figure International). After a poor start to her IFBB Pro League career in the Fitness division, Jenny made the switch to Figure, when the category was introduced to the IFBB Pro League competition series in 2003. Jenny went on to win back-to-back Olympia titles in 2006 and 2007.
William Irvine, Age 84
On July 3rd in Toronto, Ontario, William Irvine, the Canadian bodybuilder, and owner of York Barbell passed away at the age of 84. Irvine won the prestigious Mr. Canada Junior title in 1957, at the age of 20, in bodybuilding and strength. It is believed that this victory was the impetus to create the York Barbell, in the small town of York just outside Toronto. While long-time bodybuilding and fitness businessman Bob Hoffman had already established York Barbell in York, Pennsylvania, the two businessmen came to a mutual understanding that they would not attempt to poach business from each other’s respective countries. This agreement was honored until 2004 when Irvine and his business partner, Peter Hallford, purchased the US-based “York Barbell” in 2004. Irvine remained active with the company until his final days.
“Bill manufactured and sold more Olympic bars and plates than anyone in history during his ownership of York Barbell. Bill was a friend and a great human being. He will be missed. Rest in Peace, Bill.” – John Robert Cardillo
Melissa Coates, Age 50
It was unbelievable to hear the saddening news that Canadian IFBB Pro Melissa Coates has passed away, just 5 days after her 50th birthday. Born in Thunder Bay, Ontario, Melissa began bodybuilding at the age of 15 to pursue her goal of becoming a pro tennis player! While she did have some success as a junior tennis player, Coates became known as a “trailblazer” in both professional bodybuilding and pro wrestling. Melissa earned her IFBB Pro Card in the early 1990s and went on to compete multiple times at the Ms. International (Arnold Classic) and Ms. Olympia contests. During those times, you could find Melissa featured on the covers of almost every popular bodybuilding magazine. After retiring from competitive bodybuilding, Melissa went on to compete in the WWE and other independent wrestling federations, where she was known to fans as “Super Genie”. Melissa’s passing came roughly 8 months after having her leg amputated in October of 2020, due to blood clots obstructing the blood flow to her lower leg.
Karen Pang was not only a 3x Canadian National Bikini Champion, but also the owner of KaBling Designs, which creates elegant, custom crystal posing suits at an affordable price, a Personal Trainer, fitness model, and had recently launched a new podcast The WuPang Clan: Ain’t Nuthin’ to Flex With. It was heartbreaking news to hear reports that Karen died in a tragic snowmobiling accident near the end of March 2021. Many of us in the bodybuilding community came to know Karen through her competitions, as a savvy businesswoman, and a dear friend.
Andy Haman, Age 55
It came as a crushing blow to our Muscle Insider team and so many others in the industry when we heard the news that IFBB Pro Bodybuilder turned actor Andy Haman had passed away at the age of 55. It was Andy's wife Michelle that explained his death was due to complications from elbow joint surgery. Haman graduated from the University of Iowa and went on to teach Physical Education and Health at Thomas B. Doherty High School in Colorado Springs, Colorado. After retiring from teaching, Andy went on to pursue a career in bodybuilding as a super heavyweight. After only a few years of competing, he earned his IFBB Pro Card at the NPC Masters Bodybuilding National Championships in 2007. Michelle said Andy was "larger than life and was as crazy and silly at home as people would see at Expos and that's how everyone should remember him.”
Matt Mendenhall, Age 55
Sadly, bodybuilding legend Matt Mendenhall has died at age 61. Lonnie Teper labeled him the "best NPC bodybuilder never to win a pro card" in Iron Man Magazine back in the day. No less an authority than Lee Haney said Mendenhall was the most gifted bodybuilder he had ever seen. Lonnie reminisced that at the 1991 Nationals in Pittsburgh, regarded by some as the greatest line-up of all time, saw Mendendall land in a distant fifth behind winner Kevin Levrone, runner-up Flex Wheeler, third place Paul "Quadzilla" DeMayo and fourth place Ronnie Coleman. Yes, that Ronnie Coleman.
Michael Thier, Age 50
Michael “Big Kentucky” Thier, was many things to many people. Known as a Bodybuilder, a Soldier, a Friend, a Mentor, and someone who had a direct impact on so many lives in and out of the Fitness and Bodybuilding Industry. At 50 years of age, Michael died at Hospice Fredericton on February 21, 2021. We remember Mike as a veteran from the wars he served in (Bosnia 1996 and 1999, UN Mission Ethiopia) who proudly wore his uniform of the Canadian Armed Forces serving our country, as well as an accomplished bodybuilder. Of special note was in 2013 at the Atlantic Classic Championships, where he captured the Heavyweight title and later on competed at the 2018 Atlantic Classic Championships. He was then a special invitee of the 2nd Gladiator Showdown, placing 3rd in the Super Heavyweight Division. Not only was he a loyal and committed soldier in the trenches, he was also a loyal and devoted bodybuilder to our sport, contributing and supporting it through bursaries, donations, and giving back to the sport in so many ways.
Richard “Dustin” Cosman, Contest Prep Coach and founder of Full Force Fitness, based out of Edmonton, Alberta, passed away on January 1st, 2021. Known in the Canadian Bodybuilding industry as a national competitor and contest-prep coach, Dustin was responsible for coaching and guiding countless clients to reach their fitness goals, which resulted in many trophies and awards in recognition of his client’s achievements. Not only was Dusting regarded as an amazing coach, but also an outstanding competitor, earning an impressive 8 National Body Building Championship Titles. Sources close to Dustin say he wasn’t feeling well, decided to lie down, and passed away in his sleep.
Legendary promoter and gym owner Bob Bonham passed away on October 3rd, 2021. Regarded as the original East Coast Mecca, Bob was one of the original owners of the very popular Strong and Shapely Gym when it opened its doors in New Jersey in 1984. Not only did Bob own Strong and Shapely Gym, but was also a successful promoter and a mainstay of the bodybuilding community for decades. During the 90’s and 2000’s, Bob promoted some of the largest NPC events as well as the Mr. America contest, The Woman’s Extravaganza and the Ms. Olympia in the early 2000’s. It was said Bonham suffered from severe dementia and may have also been suffering from kidney failure. In his 70s, Bob allegedly took his own life. In an Instagram post, Greg Valentino had this to say:
“I JUST WANT TO LET YOU ALL KNOW MY BEST FRIEND & BROTHER BOB BONHAM TOOK HIS OWN LIFE TODAY,,,,I LOST A BROTHER & BODYBUILDING LOST A LEGEND!!!!! ...I LOVE YOU BOB & MISS YOU ALREADY!!!”
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