Just call him “a chemical machine!” Like so many other bodybuilders, Gordon Kimbrough felt intense pressure to always look his best from his broad, muscled chest to his chiseled abdomen and legs. But, Kimbrough might have taken his obsession too far when he turned to steroids and a concoction of other performance enhancing drugs to achieve the perfect physique, much like Arnold Schwarzenegger during his prime. Pairing the drugs with a strict diet and a vigorous weight training routine, the 5’10” Kimbrough was well on his way to stardom in the industry with 240 pounds of pure muscle.
Despite his potential to become one of the greatest bodybuilders of all time, Kimbrough’s competition days were cut short in 1993 when he shocked his family, friends and the rest of the world after he was convicted of murdering his girlfriend of four years, 27-year-old aerobics instructor and award-winning amateur bodybuilder Kristy Ramsey. So, what exactly happened? Once described as meek and shy when not on steroids, Kimbrough’s growing obsession with his body and extensive steroid use transformed him into a short-tempered and violent man, one his family and Ramsey no longer recognized.
With both Kimbrough and Ramsey well-known across San Francisco’s bodybuilding circuit, the couple naturally had a lot in common but that didn’t make up for the sudden change in Kimbrough’s personality and temperament. On June 20, 1993, Ramsey had just returned from an amateur bodybuilding competition in Durham, North Carolina when Kimbrough arrived home. According to authorities, Ramsey told Kimbrough that she was calling their upcoming wedding off and admitted that she recently had an affair. Enraged, the 250-pound Kimbrough hit the 137-pound Ramsey across the face before wrapping an electrical cord around her neck three times and stabbing her twice in the throat with a kitchen knife. Police found him the next morning holding a knife to his own throat muttering, “She found someone else,” after numerous failed attempts to end his own life by injecting himself with Lysol and a prescription diuretic known as Lasix.
During the trial, Kimbrough’s family argued that the murder was committed in a “fit of passion” after the heartbreak of being rejected “by the woman of his dreams.” However, law enforcement officials, physicians and a long list of Kimbrough’s friends argued that his extensive steroid use drove him straight into a “roid rage,” a term used to describe uncontrollable outbursts of anger caused by steroids. After 1993, the phrase “roid rage” was heard in gyms across America as a tragic warning of the dangers of steroids and a reminder of Kimbrough’s fate.
As for Kimbrough, he was 31 years old when he was arraigned for first degree murder. Initially expected to defend himself in court by pleading that the steroids were responsible for causing him to commit the crime, Kimbrough later hired his own defense attorney who argued that Kimbrough was heartbroken that Ramsey called off the wedding and planned to run off with another man. Although his attorney attempted to reduce the charge to manslaughter, the judge ruled otherwise after hearing tearful testimony from Ramsey’s family that cast Kimbrough as a selfish, manipulative man who humiliated, abused and lied to Ramsey for years. On April 3, 1995, Kimbrough was convicted of first degree murder and sentenced to 27 years to life in prison.
While Kimbrough is now mostly an unknown name outside of his native San Francisco, there are still plenty of people in the bodybuilding and fitness industries who know him directly or recognize him by name—after all, he was primarily responsible for creating the image of bodybuilders as violent and aggressive steroid freaks. Now the poster child for the narcissistic bodybuilder who is only concerned about his physique at the cost of everything, Kimbrough truly is a “fairytale gone wrong.” His “roid rage” is a reminder to all bodybuilders—from aspiring amateurs to veterans—the importance of always remaining vigilant when it comes to performance enhancing drugs.
In the years since Kimbrough’s conviction, physicians have learned even more about steroid use and the associated dangers. Today, the knowledge is readily available in the bodybuilding industry, which is a huge change from the 1980s and 1990s when bodybuilders cared more about muscle gain and less about the aggressive side effects and potential trouble. In fact, part of what we know today about steroids is thanks to Dr. David L. Katz, a Harvard University psychiatrist, who studied the steroid epidemic. After Kimbrough’s sentencing, Dr. Katz tracked over 20 murders across the United States that were convicted by men who claimed to be non-violent until they started taking steroids.
With Kimbrough spending the rest of his life in prison and dozens of other murders proving the harsh side effects of roid rage, steroids were finally deemed an illegal and potentially abusive drug by the United States Congress in 1990. Since then, all bodybuilding competitions have banned steroid use and require bodybuilders to be vigorously tested prior to entering any competition. And, while the now 54-year-old Kimbrough is still serving his sentence in San Francisco, many believe that it was his conviction that finally encouraged legislative officials to take a closer and more serious look at steroids. Although he never became a bodybuilding legend like he dreamed, perhaps something good came from Kimbrough’s life after all especially if it means saving lives one bodybuilder at a time.