Like Madonna, Cher or Liberace, he’s known virtually throughout the world to his fans, and certainly in Hollywood, by just one name.
A simple Arnold. Or, as some magazines have phonetically dubbed him — Ah-nuld.
With a following bigger even than his biceps, Arnold Schwarzenegger has grown from muscular yet modest beginnings as a Mr. Universe to one of Hollywood’s top money-making and box office stars in such films as “The Terminator,” “Terminator 2 – Judgment Day,” “Twins,” “Kindergarten Cop,” “Total Recall,” “Last Action Hero,” “True Lies,” “Eraser” and “Jingle All the Way.”
But there’s another side to the man who disarms nuclear bombs in the same speed that he dispatches terrorists with a dispassionate “Hasta la vista, baby.”
For all his brawny, macho, iron-pumping, Uzi-toting onscreen antics, Schwarzenegger spends a significant amount of his time and money on one of his most important passions — working with underprivileged, handicapped and inner city kids to help them grow and develop through sports. That’s one of the reasons the musclebound actor is this year’s Showest honoree for humanitarian efforts.
An athlete from his earliest days in Graz, Austria, Schwarzenegger says he has always loved bringing sports and children together. He has long used his fame and fortune to foster it.
He has been the international weight-training coach for the Special Olympics since 1979. Special Olympics chairman Sargent Shriver, who is also Schwarzenegger’s father-in-law, says Arnold doesn’t just put in appearances.
“He’s very sensitive,” Shriver says. “A lot of people think that because of the movies he’s in that he’s just a big hulk of a man capable of beating down people. That’s not true at all of him personally. He’s sensitive to the needs of people. He teaches them about bodybuilding and works with mentally handicapped people whenever he can. He doesn’t treat them as if from a distance, as if they had no relationship to him. He gives them the benefit of his abilities and his personality.”
In 1991, he began a stint as executive commissioner of the Hollenbeck Inner City Games in L.A. In 1995, he segued into establishing the Inner City Games Foundation to provide sports and educational opportunities for inner-city youth.
From 1990 to 1993 he served as chairman of the President’s Council on Physical Fitness and Sports. And now he’s chairman of the California Governor’s Council on Physical Fitness and Sports.
In fact, he’s given so much of himself to helping kids discover sports over the past year that ShoWest has seen fit to hail the Terminator as Humanitarian of the Year.
Schwarzenegger is constantly on the receiving end of these kinds of accolades, but he claims that the ShoWest designation means a little bit more.
“They come in spurts like that. But it’s gratifying and it’s terrific to get an award, whether for your acting or your movies or for biggest box office or for humanitarian things you do,” he says. “It means people recognize those things. It’s always nice when you have the chance to help millions of kids, when you are the idol of those kids and you can use that power to help them.”
Schwarzenegger clearly loves introducing children to athletics, including his own. He calls Variety from his car where he’s sitting in Los Angeles waiting for his kids to finish karate and horseback-riding lessons.
“I think the reason I always use athletics, whether it’s Special Olympics or Inner City Games, may be because sports and fitness helped me so much,” he says. “It not only strengthened my body and helped me win World Championships and all that. But what comes with it is that you really feel a sense of accomplishment. You learn about discipline. Each time you set a goal. We learn so many lessons you can use for life and other things.”
Schwarzenegger helped founder Danny Fernandez create the Inner City Games two years ago and has since been its biggest patron and fan. The Games are set up for inner-city kids to participate in sports clinics and competitions.
“It’s an easy way to get them off the streets and get them into an alternative program,” beams the Kindergarten Cop.
Bonnie Reese, exec director of the Inner City Games Foundation, says that Schwarzenegger is the main reason her foundation exists.
“Arnold brings such amazing clout and opportunity and resources to make the games possible on the level that they are in the cities that they’re in,” she says. “He brought Planet Hollywood in to be a national sponsor.”
Reese says Arnold is able to secure major athletes and prominent figures to make appearances and work with the kids as well, among them boxer Evander Holyfield, Olympic track star Edwin Moses, Houston Rockets star Hakeem Olajuwon, former track star Bob Beamon, Gen. Colin Powell, New York Mayor Rudolph Giuliani and Elaine Wynn, wife of Steve Wynn, who runs the Mirage Hotel in Las Vegas.
The Games have grown to 12 cities with more than a million participants in just two years, Reese says.
Fernandez points to the story of Ruben Palamares as picture-perfect evidence of Schwarzenegger’s contribution.
Palamares had been an angry, violent kid associated with the Southgate gangs in South Central L.A. But in the early 1990s, he started participating in the Hollenbeck Inner City Games sports programs.
“Now, he’s a cop with the L.A.P.D.,” says Fernandez. “Being able to see an individual pursue his dream gave Ruben the added incentive to do that.”
Schwarzenegger grows wistfully nostalgic when describing how he started lifting weights as a 15-year-old in Austria.
“As a kid, I was in sports all the time, track and field, shot put, javelin throw, swimming, soccer,” he says in his still-heavily Austrian-accented English. “Eventually I stumbled onto the sport I was really meant for. The same stadium where we played soccer had this huge cement bunker of weight-lifting equipment. We learned boxing, wrestling, weight lifting, which I immediately went toward.”
By age 20, Schwarzenegger had become Mr. Universe, winning the first of what became an unprecedented 13 titles.
Hollywood discovered him after the 1977 feature documentary, “Pumping Iron.” Director Bob Rafelson saw the docu and immediately cast Schwarzenegger in “Stay Hungry” opposite Jeff Bridges and Sally Field. He then opted to pursue an acting career and appeared in 1978 in “The Villain” with Kirk Douglas and Ann-Margret as well as the TV movie “The Jayne Mansfield Story.
Schwarzenegger broke into action fare with John Milius’ 1981 release “Conan the Barbarian,” which grossed more than $100 million and spawned a sequel in “Conan the Destroyer.”
But it wasn’t until he took a chance on a low-budget indie pic called “The Terminator” that his potential was realized. James Cameron’s futuristic thriller was a megahit and suddenly America was quoting the black sunglasses-wearing bad guy — “I’ll be back.”
The role led to a slew of true action parts in “Commando,” “Raw Deal,” “Predator,” “The Running Man” and “Red Heat.” In each, Schwarzenegger invariably played a soft-spoken, steely-eyed hero whose throwaway comic lines began to define the genre.
Director Ivan Reitman saw something in his dry delivery that he thought could work in a comedy. He cast Arnold in “Twins” with Danny DeVito, which did well enough at the box office to reunite the pair with Reitman in “Junior” in 1995. The latter role earned him his first Golden Globe nomination as best actor in a comedy.
He went on to do “Total Recall,” “Kindergarten Cop” and the long-anticipated “Terminator 2 — Judgment Day” with Cameron. “T-2” not only turned his half-man/half-machine Terminator character into a good guy who befriends Linda Hamilton’s boy, but it earned $506 million worldwide.
That alone made ShoWest invent a new award: “International Star of the Decade,” which was presented to him in 1993.
Schwarzenegger has since turned to directing a couple of projects — an episode of HBO’s “Tales from the Crypt” and a TNT remake of the holiday pic “Christmas in Connecticut” with Dyan Cannon, Kris Kristofferson and Tony Curtis.
Schwarzenegger normally keeps himself busy, whether it’s playing Dad with his three kids or blowing away a cadre of bad guys in his latest action episode.
He’s in between jobs at the moment, but don’t worry, he’s not starving. His $20 million-plus paydays put him in the elite company of Tom Cruise, Kevin Costner, Mel Gibson and Bruce Willis. He’s prepping for “Planet of the Apes,” which will reunite him with “Terminator” helmer James Cameron.
He recently made Hollywood headlines when he left ICM and agent Lou Pitt after nearly 20 years. Schwarzenegger says he was just ready for a change. He quickly dispels any notion that he felt his career was ebbing after “Jingle All the Way” had a subpar box office return.
“It’s simply the same thing as when you stay in a house and you want to move after 15 years,” he says. “New blood, new ideas, new energy. That’s really the only reason for it.”
He hasn’t yet decided on another agency, but says he’s in no rush as his next two years’ worth of projects are already laid out, starting with “Planet of the Apes.”
After several years of stumping for Presidents Reagan and Bush, Schwarzenegger has become known as an avowed Republican. But he doesn’t let it interfere with his home life. His wife, broadcaster Maria Shriver, is the daughter of former U.S. Senator and vice-presidential candidate Sargent Shriver, who was known as one of the more liberal voices in Congress.
Schwarzenegger, who normally avoids politics, became somewhat entangled in a political tiff after Bill Clinton was first elected as President in 1992. President Bush had appointed Schwarzenegger as chairman of the President’s Council on Physical Fitness and Sports. When Clinton displaced Bush, Schwarzenegger saw the writing on the wall and wanted to avoid a public quarrel with Clinton.
“It was very clear that the Clinton administration wanted to shrink down the program,” he says. “And it did not work as effectively as it did under the previous administration. That became clear and we had a meeting and I just resigned. It wasn’t political. It was more the philosophy.”
Sargent Shriver, who ran for the U.S. veepee slot with George McGovern in 1972, says politics never enters into his relationship with Arnold.
“It’s never been a problem for me,” says Shriver. “He came to this country from Austria and got the idea early on that the democratic party in this country was very much like the socialist party in Austria. That’s totally false. Somehow he got it, then some of his friends turned out to be Republicans. They convinced him to join the party, which he did.”
Shriver depends on Arnold to help with the Special Olympics.
“Arnold does for Special Olympics what very few people and maybe nobody else can do. He brings the attention of his large public following to the attention of the Olympics.
Schwarzenegger was also the recipient of an unusual prize for a bodybuilder, the 1991 Simon Wiesenthal National Leadership Award for his support of the Wiesenthal Center’s Holocaust studies.
“It’s because I’ve been very outspoken against prejudice and a supporter of the Simon Wiesenthal Center,” he says. “I just stumbled onto it. I was invited to one of their events. I was so impressed. These were the kinds of things I missed so much in my country. Real teaching about history.”
Schwarzenegger grows passionate when he describes his fear that prejudice and racial or ethnic discrimination can easily exist in America.
“There is always a danger,” he says. “You always have that in you. At any given time, prejudice can erupt. I learned how to deal with that the first time when I came to this country. We had American Indians talking about it. You were confronted here. You had to work and study with those issues. It’s very important to spread that kind of message and philosophy.”
When Arnold was given the award, he was able to prevail upon his good pal President Bush to be the Wiesenthal Center’s guest speaker for the dinner.
Wiesenthal founder Rabbi Marvin Hier says the evening was a sellout: “Before the invitations went out, there were no seats left.”
But Hier claims Arnold’s real value is in supporting the Museum of Tolerance. “He’s among the leading supporters of the museum and he has consistently done it without being asked,” Hier says.
Unlike many of Hollywood’s artistic contingent, Schwarzenegger copiously avoids imposing his personal, political or emotional views on the movies he makes. He says he will never change a storyline to adapt his point of view over the screenwriter’s or director’s.
“Movies are much more for entertainment than for anything else,” he says. “Although there are some actors who do (put personal philosophies in their films). I don’t disagree with it. If that’s what they like to do. I just feel as a businessman that I have to think of the studio and the people who put the money in.
“If I do that, then I sayhow can I make this story internationally entertaining. If I throw something in about inner cities or criminal hoods, in Germany or China or Japan they won’t be able to relate.”
Lonnie Hana is the national celebrity coordinator for the Make-A-Wish Foundation, which helps children who have been diagnosed with a threatening or terminal illness make and experience a wish.
Hana says Schwarzenegger puts smiles on the kids’ faces. “In the last five years, he has met with quite a few children. I was there on one occasion. It was a young boy who wanted to meet him, back when he was in ‘Kindergarten Cop.’ We met at the gym. They just talked, and we took pictures. He was thrilled.”
Through all the fame, he keeps a fairly level head and dry sense of humor about it all. He explains how fans constantly sidle up to him with stories of how they are tied to him in some way. “It’s crazy. Do you know how many people will tell me, ‘I buy my cigars where you buy your cigars in Sherman Oaks’?
“How could I buy my cigars in Sherman Oaks? I need a passport to go to Sherman Oaks. I live on the West Side.”