“Do you want to come to an Arnold Schwarzenegger meet-and-greet?” the late Norbert Wierszewski, owner of The Burn Machine, asked me during our company’s second day as a prominent sponsor of the 2012 Arnold Sports Festival in Columbus, Ohio.
I had just returned from making the rounds with our equipment, and didn’t hesitate to provide a response: “Of course!”
Norbert and I walked over to a special check-in area and eventually found ourselves in a room containing at least a dozen round tables. We sat and waited with the rest of the event’s sponsors for only a few moments before Schwarzenegger entered the room flanked by the event director and a few other associates. At the appointed moment, I stepped forward, and Arnold stared directly into my eyes, leaned uncomfortably close to my face and uttered, “Hi.”
I didn’t mean to be rude with my non-audible reply. I’m notorious for blinking in photos, and was funneling every ounce of my concentration into not ruining my one opportunity to score a quality photo with Arnold. So instead of saying anything at all to the Austrian Oak, I slapped him on the back, turned toward the camera and scored a solid photo of my six-foot-one-and-a-quarter-inch self standing right next to the Terminator, bedecked in all of my Northwestern University alumni regalia — tie, handkerchief, tie clip and lapel pin. It was awesome.
At that moment, I remember thinking Arnold was maybe an inch taller than I was, but that may have been entirely attributable to his protruding hair. Our eyes were essentially level when I stepped up to him, and when I finally saw the photo, it was all confirmed for me.
So why is it such a big deal that I have photographic evidence to back my firsthand account and estimate of Arnold’s height? Because there are so many Arnold Schwarzenegger height truthers loose in the world who insist that Arnold is far shorter than the six-foot-one-and-a-half inches that was claimed on his behalf during his bodybuilding heyday and beyond. (It was also frequently — and understandably — rounded up to 6-foot-2.)
In 1978, reporter L.M. Boyd affirmed Arnold’s height to be 6-foot-2 in a notable national column. Fourteen years later, in a 1992 edition of her nationally syndicated column, Stacy Jenel Smith was asked by a fan about Arnold’s height and weight, with the reader asking if “movie magic” was responsible for Arnold appearing so big. Smith responded by listing Schwarzenegger’s height as 6-foot-2 and his weight at 215 pounds.
The 6-foot-2 figure seems to have been generally accepted as being at least close to factually correct until September 2003, when Michael Miner published a piece in the Chicago Reader alleging that Schwarzenegger may actually have been as short as 5-foot-6, but with most people quoted guessing he was around 5-foot-10. It’s remained the subject of considerable debate ever since. To wit: A subsequent October 21, 2003 report from The Sacramento Bee cited several sources offering estimates of Schwarzenegger’s height ranging anywhere from 5-foot-8 to 6-foot-2, but with most of those guesses landing short of the 6-foot mark.
We shouldn’t overlook the fact that many men, if not most, lose an inch of height sometime between the ages of 30 and 70. Much of this can be caused by pressure placed on the spine, and the flattening of discs between vertebrae. With this being the case, I wouldn’t be surprised that someone who spent decades pressing and squatting several hundreds of pounds at a time in pursuit of bodybuilding glory had his spine-shortening process accelerated as a result of those efforts.
Why, though, are some folks so adamant on dragging Arnold down several inches? Depending on the era, the reasons may have ranged from political opponents desiring to smear him to bodybuilders who were dumbfounded as to how a man so tall could pack so much aesthetically pleasing muscle onto such a large frame, when far shorter men, who theoretically should have been granted an advantage in some respects due to their shortened statures, were unable to keep pace.
Again, in the service of ending this silly debate, I can submit from personal experience that Arnold is at least 6-foot-1, and if he’s lost an inch due to age and spinal compression, I’m willing to grant him the benefit of the doubt. If that’s not good enough for all the Arnold height truthers out there, I would direct them toward this standout quote of his from True Lies: “Everybody pities the weak; jealousy you have to earn.”