“Every gay and lesbian person who has been lucky enough to survive the turmoil of growing up is a survivor. Survivors always have an obligation to those who will face the same challenges.” Inspirational in more ways than one as a bodybuilder, writer, public speaker, civil rights activist and actor, Bob Paris not only won the 1983 IFBB World Bodybuilding Championship and the NPC American National, he is also the first professional male athlete in the entire world to come out of the closet and publicly announce that he is gay. So, how did the former Mr. Universe get his start in bodybuilding and where is he now?
Raised in Columbus, Indiana in the 1960s, Paris was both incredibly artistic and athletic as a child as he spent much of his spare time writing short stories and drawing. In fact, his first real taste of success was as an artist when his paintings and drawings earned him numerous National Scholastic Awards. As for his athletic side, Paris loved anything that involved the outdoors and spent quite a bit of his young adulthood backpacking and hiking throughout the wooded hills of southern Indiana. By the time he reached high school, he was a well-rounded student who honed his talents as an actor and performed in school musicals, joined the debate team and was a member of the International Thespian Society. He also played football, golf and sprinted with track and field.
Paris was a sophomore in high school when his life changed forever after he found an old weight training machine in one of the back rooms of the basketball gym. Out of curiosity, he tried the machine and immediately liked how he felt after a brief workout. Increasing the time he spent on the machine over the next few weeks and months, Paris quickly noticed his size and strength were improving. Suddenly, he was less interested in joining his teammates on the hardwoods and more interested in weight training on his own, which inspired his decision to eventually pursue a future as a bodybuilder.
Continuing to weight train, Paris joined the United States Marine Corps and was sent to boot camp at Parris Island, South Carolina. He then enrolled at Indiana State University but found classes to be boring compared to his dreams of exploring the world. Eventually dropping out of college, he moved to southern California with the hopes of pursuing a career as both a bodybuilder and an actor. With absolutely no connections or friends in Los Angeles, Paris spent most of his time weight training and working while living out of his car to save money for a gym membership.
After struggling for two years in Los Angeles, Paris finally caught his first major break in 1981 when he won the National Physique Committee’s (NPC) Mr. Los Angeles contest as a light-heavyweight. A year later, he won the NPC Mr. Southern California and the NPC California Muscle Classic under the same weight division. By 1993, he moved up to the heavyweight class and won the NPC National Championships and the IFBB World Championships, which was his first contest as a professional bodybuilder. By then, he was ready to enter the biggest, most prestigious competition of all—the Mr. Olympia.
Doing exactly that in 1984, Paris made his debut at Mr. Olympia with a seventh-place finish, which became his best showing out of four contests in 1985, 1988, 1989 and 1991 with his next best finish coming in 1985 when he placed ninth. Beyond Mr. Olympia, he saw moderate success with top five finishes in competitions like the 1988 IFBB Niagara Falls Grand Prix, Night of Champions and the Spanish Grand Prix in addition to the 1989 IFBB Arnold Classic, the World Professional Championship and the 1991 Montreal Grand Prix.
Although he never secured the coveted Mr. Olympia title or a first-place finish in the IFBB, Paris was known as the most aesthetic bodybuilder of all time thanks to his finely shaped physique which, although wasn’t the most muscular, was a true reflection of his artistic side. Because of his gorgeous physique and unique approach to training, he was featured in the July 1989 issue of Ironman magazine where he came out as a gay man and became the first male professional athlete in the world to share his sexual preference while still active in the sport. Skyrocketed into media headlines around the world, Paris went on to appear on The Oprah Winfrey Show where he shared his life story and his joy of falling in love and wanting to live openly.
Unfortunately, Paris’ bodybuilding career was severely damaged after his announcement as nearly 80% of his bodybuilding endorsements, bookings and contracts were revoked or canceled as threats inundated the phone and his mail. By 1991, he officially retired to focus more on his future as a writer. After years of advocating against the use of performance enhancing drugs in the industry and suggesting the implementation of drug tests prior to competitions, Paris channeled his voice and published his first book, Beyond Built: Bob Paris’ Guide to Achieving the Ultimate Look. Since then, he’s written six additional titles that focus on two issues that are the most important to him: fitness and gay rights.
Now, the 57-year-old former Mr. Universe turned actor, writer, public speaker and civil rights activist is living proof that bodybuilding can be a stepping stone to an even bigger, more fulfilling career. Having made his stage debut at New York’s Carnegie Hall in the 1998 production of Jubilee, becoming a published author and launching his own website, Paris truly seems to have it all as he and his spouse, Brian, have settled down in Vancouver where he enjoys the gorgeous outdoors. As for his bodybuilding career, Paris truly believes it saved his life and made him the man he is today.