December 14, 1959– Bob Paris:
“Every gay 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.”
Those who have known me in just the past half a decade might be surprised to discover that there have been stretches of time, entire eras actually, when I was in spectacular physical shape with a lifestyle dedicated to eating well & exercising. The secret to my success was simply replacing bad addictions to alcohol or drugs with a focused compulsion to exercise.
One of those eras was the first half of the 1980s. 1981-1986 found me at the gym at least 2 hours a day, 5 days a week. Obsessive/Compulsive as always, I read books & magazines on weightlifting & diet. For that short time Bob Paris was my inspiration, with his books tossed casually on the coffee table of our Capitol Hill apartment in Seattle.
On our 19th anniversary, in 1998, The Husband & I saw Paris make his NYC stage debut, starring at Carnegie Hall opposite Bea Arthur, Sandy Duncan, Michael Jeter, Philip Bosco, Alice Ripley & Tyne Daly in a new production the Cole Porter musical, Jubilee. His character was frequently shirtless & Paris continued to inspire.
Paris was born Robert Clark Paris in Indiana. He was born into a very tough circumstance. His father was an alcoholic who was physically abusive.
Paris first began lifting weights in his sophomore year of high school. After graduating, he moved to California to go after his love of bodybuilding. He also thought that he might be interested in becoming an actor. Paris had heard that Santa Monica & Venice Beach were places a guy might live in order to pursue both careers.
Paris began to compete in bodybuilding competitions. Then, he began to win them. He realized when he was very young that he was gay. It was an open secret in the bodybuilding community; however, his gayness was only speculated on. Paris didn’t comment on it & he didn’t deny it.
Young Paris was especially good-looking & muscular. I remember him being described as “The Tyrone Power Of Muscles”. Although the bodybuilding world recognized that he was gay, the sport’s promoters always paired him with women at receptions, galas & charity events.
From 1981-1983, Paris competed aggressively & placed first in 5 out of 7 of the amateur bodybuilding competitions he entered.
1984-1991, Paris competed professionally in the Mr. Olympia competitions but never came in above 7th place. However, he’s entered & placed in 19 total professional competitions.
Paris first came out his parents & later was open about being gay in the media. He formally came out in a 1989 issue of Ironman Magazine. Later that year he married the equally pretty Rod Jackson. They became “Bob & Rod”, the most fabulous title for a gay couple of all time. This union made headlines, but both their professional careers suffered.
Being a couple in the spotlight is never easy, but considering that they were same-sex married couple in the 1980s, it took real bravery. In the 1980s, Paris was a celebrated bodybuilder, a magazine cover boy with the title of Mr. Universe, but it was also an era when gay men were dying at an alarming rate, hundreds a week, taken by the new plague. At the time, 70% of Americans believed that homosexuality was a sin. But Paris was able to find the strength to tell all to God, & by God, I mean Oprah, on National TV. Bob & Rod were the first modern gay male couple, more famous together than separate. The lovers become symbols of hope in the fight for gay marriage, but it was career suicide for Paris.
“You fall in love. When Rod & I met, we found a spiritual bond between each other. If you bastardize it & you stick it back in your back pocket where no one can see it, then pretty soon you chip away pieces of that bit by bit, until you have absolutely nothing left.”
“For me, the repercussions of coming out were tremendous. I lost about 80 percent of my business. Literally had doors closed in my face. There were a number of times where my life was threatened. Some death threats came by phone, by mail.”
Paris was also suddenly no longer winning the bodybuilding competitions, even though he was in the best condition of his career. He was booed & called names from the crowds. He retired from bodybuilding in 1991. After leaving the sport, he was blacklisted by the body building powers.
Flex Magazine now ranks Paris as the #1 Aesthetic Athlete in the history of bodybuilding. Famous for his artistic approach toward the sport, Paris also was dedicated to advocating for the rights of athletes & he was outspoken in his support for drug testing in the professional world of bodybuilding.
The Bob & Rod Show ended in divorce. They both remain mostly silent on the breakup. Together, they had written a book about their relationship & its struggles, Straight From The Heart, A Love Story (1989). They were also the subjects of 2 awesome volumes of photographs, Duo by the great Herb Ritts, & the slightly, dirty, but artful Bob & Rod by Tom Bianchi
Paris admits that he kept working on the relationship because felt that he would be contributing to a negative image of gays if they were to break up.
Paris has written 7 books including Prime: The Complete Guide To Being Fit, Looking Good, Feeling Great (2002). He works as a writer, Civil Rights activist & actor. In the late aughts he had a recurring role on the ABC series Defying Gravity. But mostly, Paris lives on an island near Vancouver, BC with his husband, Brian Le Ferguey & their standard poodle. The pair has been together for 20 years & legally married in 2003 after Canada enacted Marriage Equality.
I have become rather comfortable in my old age lumpiness, Paris still likes a champion, of course.