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How Schwarzenegger, now 70, created his own American Dream

Katharina Abel ad
July 28, 2017

He won plenty of prizes as a bodybuilder and actor, but Arnold Schwarzenegger's perhaps biggest achievement was being elected twice as governor of California. As he turns 70, here's a look at his one-of-a-kind career.

Arnold Schwarznegger
Image: Getty Images/AFP/P. Kovarik

"The Terminator," the futuristic killing machine, became notorious for being practically invincible.

Arnold Schwarzenegger has played the role four times over the course of his career, and it seems he's nearly internalized the Terminator's most important trait. Still "invincible" at 70, he continues to travel the world as a climate activist, businessman and, of course, actor.

"I don't know what else I'd do," Schwarzenegger told German newspaper Süddeutsche Zeitung. "So I'll continue until I stop breathing."

His first breath was taken on July 30, 1947, in Thal in the Austrian region of Steiermark. As a child, he was active in sports, including soccer, boxing and swimming.


At age 15, he first entered a weightlifting studio. Over the next few years, the young Schwarzenegger would spend most of his time fine-tuning his muscles.

"You have to train each muscle individually. It's like the precise work of a sculptor who works on marble with a hammer and chisel - not exactly like Rodin, but similar," Schwarzenneger told the German weekly Die Zeit in 2012.

In 1967, he became the youngest Mr. Universe. Starting in 1970, he earned the Mr. Olympia title - the most important bodybuilding award - six times in a row. He readily admits that he took steroids, adding that they weren't banned at the time.

Read: Judgment day for 'Terminator' Arnold Schwarzenegger in Munich train station

New artist friends

When Schwarzenegger immigrated to the US in 1968, his impressive appearance soon caught the attention of the film industry. Known under his stage name, Arnold Strong, he got his first role in 1969 in "Hercules in New York."

At the same time, Schwarzenegger also found his way into the art scene and got to know Pop Art icon Andy Warhol. "He was fascinated by my energy and my strength," the bodybuilder told Die Zeit. "I worked as a model for him, and he introduced me to other artists like Jamie Wyeth and Laraine Newman."

Arnold Schwarzenegger as bodybuilder in the 1970s
Schwarzenegger has compared bodybuilding to sculptingImage: picture-alliance/dpa

Schwarzenegger also recalled how Warhol introduced him to producers, fundraisers and actors like James Caan, Woody Allen and influential people like Jackie Kennedy. Years later, Schwarzenegger would become part of the Kennedy family himself, when he married Maria Shriver, the niece of former US President John F. Kennedy, in 1986.

Now well connected, his film career took off in 1977. Schwarzenegger surprised critics by winning a Golden Globe for Best Acting Debut in a Motion Picture for his bodybuilder docudrama "Pumping Iron."

In 1982, he became famous as "Conan the Barbarian," and in 1984 he was offered the main role in a B-movie called "The Terminator," which, in Schwarzenegger's own words, was "a big challenge for him." Thanks to his convincing performance as the android killer, the low-budget production by director James Cameron quickly rose to cult status.

The 'Governator'

By then, Schwarzenegger was in high demand, and his earnings continued to rise. From the late 1980s until the early 1990s, he enjoyed a great deal of commercial success not only with action movies, but also with comedies like "Twins" and "Kindergarten Cop" alongside Danny DeVito.

Read: 'Unlikely twin' pea plant species named after Schwarzenegger and DeVito

Nevertheless, the hype had ebbed. After his third performance as "The Terminator" in 2003, Schwarzenegger said farewell to the film world and launched his third career - this time as a politician.

When he ran for governor in California in 2003, he brought along the sword he used to carry as "Conan the Barbarian" to Sacramento, presenting himself as the strong man the state needed to rescue it from heavy debt, while calling his political opponents wimps.

It took him a while, however, to get used to his new profession as governor. "As an actor, you can rely on the screenplay, but a politician doesn't have one. Every day, every hour, it's incredible how many problems you're faced with - social welfare, poverty and overflowing jails. You wake up in the morning to 2,000 bush fires in California, or somebody is sitting in a prison cell waiting to be executed at midnight, and you get a call, saying, 'Governor, you could stop it,'" he told the Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung in 2013.

Arnold Schwarzenegger signing a bill in his office as governor of California
Gov. Schwarzenegger was in office for eight yearsImage: picture-alliance/dpa/A. NG

Schwarzenegger, a Republican, is a supporter of the death penalty and turned down two pardon opportunities as governor before lethal injection was declared unconstitutional in California in 2006, effectively ending capital punishment in the state.

Mountain of debt in California

Schwarzenegger served two terms as the governor of California. Those eight years were marked by numerous quarrels with the Democrats, who held a majority in the state legislature, as well as conflicts with his own Republican party after he became an environmental activist.

Upon his departure from office, Schwarzenegger left behind a mountain of debt amounting to $91 billion - roughly tripling the debt he started with.

Nevertheless, Schwarzenegger set his political sights even higher - but he didn't qualify to run for president, since candidates have to have been born in the US.

Instead, he returned to familiar terrain and filmed yet another edition of "Terminator" in 2015.

However, he has continued to be political active, meeting with French Prime Minister Emmanuel Macron to discuss reducing CO2 emissions, for example. And he is a vocal critic of President Donald Trump.

Schwarzenegger took over Trump's casting show "The Apprentice" in January 2017, but dropped it after one season due to bad ratings.

That certainly won't be the last we'll see of the bodybuilder-actor-politician. After all, he's gone down in film history as the man who said, "I'll be back."