Rich Gaspari – Carved in Stone

An interview by Rod Labbe in 2000: originally published in MuscleMag.

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If any one personality dominated Bodybuilding throughout the 80’s, it would have to be New Jersey boy Rich Gaspari, he of the 100 watt smile and kickass, rip-roarin’  physique.  Cover after cover, article after seemingly endless article, Gaspari was everywhere–easily eclipsing his eternal rival Lee Haney and  relegating Mike Christian, Bob Paris, and Gary Strydom to the status of also-rans.  He won the Nationals, became Mr. Universe, had a steady streak of second placings at the Olympia, and earned Bodybuilding immortality–all before the age of 30!  It’s a remarkable record, no doubt…unmatched by even today’s Superstars.  Rich Gaspari’s Bodybuilding career is indelibly carved in stone.

Since the mid-90’s, Rich has been following a slightly different course.  Competitive Bodybuilding is no longer a priority (though the Masters Olympia constantly sends its siren call).  Now, he’s a successful businessman, with his own line of nutritional and training products.  Rich lacks none of the rough-edged charm that propelled him to Bodybuilding’s greatest stage.  Personable, intelligent, quick to laugh, all of it describes Mr. Gaspari.  Oh, and one more thing: the guy’s still incredibly jacked!  Need we say more?

MuscleMag sat Rich down for his first interview in almost ten years.  It’s an eye-opener, rife with candid observations on everything from the Olympia, life and death, superstardom, the WBF, and beyond.  Better fasten your seat-belts, kids…cause this is gonna be one hellava ride!


  1. Rich, welcome–you’ve been away far too long!

RICH:  It’s great to be back, Rod, really.  I haven’t had much time to do interviews, but you’re tenacious, and I kinda like that.  You caught me in a talking mood, so lay those burning questions on me!

  1. OK, dude, this has got me totally psyched! Instead of bouncing around from topic to topic, how’s about we chronicle the Rich Gaspari story, as told by Mr. Gaspari, himself.  Sound cool?

RICH: Yeah, very cool.

  1. All right! Take the floor, brother.

RICH: Hmm…the Rich Gaspari story, huh?  Ok.  I grew up in Edison, New Jersey, an average-sized city–not too big and not too small.  My family has always been very close, and I’m the youngest.  The neighborhood around us was great; everybody knew one another, always somebody visiting or bringing over food–the typical Italian neighborhood, like you might see in a movie.  As a kid, my favorite pastime, besides daydreaming, was reading superhero comic books.  I especially liked the Incredible Hulk.  The whole concept of this skinny little man transforming into a gigantic monster completely fascinated me.

  1. From what I hear, the Hulk inspired quite a few Bodybuilders.

RICH: Oh, wow, those transformation scenes were so scary and exhilarating!  And the way he was drawn!  Angry and green and massive.  I got into the show, too.  Lou left a big impression on me. When I was in the 4th grade, I used to visit a friend’s house, and we’d read comics together in the basement.  His dad had saved all these old issues of Muscle Builder, and we’d spend hours looking at the pictures.  I couldn’t believe it–superheroes existed for real!  Right then and there, I made the decision to become a Bodybuilder.

  1. A life-altering moment! In the 4th grade, you’re what–9?  A little young to be seriously hitting the weights!

RICH: I didn’t start then, but the idea had been planted–I thought about it all the time!  The turning point came at 13.  I’d contracted a bad case of mono and had to be hospitalized.  When they discharged me, I weighed somewhere between 105 and 110 and looked and felt emaciated.  Our doctor suggested I start weight-training to get some of my strength back.  I bought a training book by Bruce Randall, with pix of Franco and Arnold in it, and followed the routines.  I lifted on a weight bench that belonged to my older brother.  Just those workouts alone helped me put on a solid 60 pounds!  I weighed 165 at 5’7″, and people began commenting on how husky I was for a 14 year old kid.

  1. When did you graduate to an actual gym?

RICH: Here’s the deal: freshman year, a buddy of mine was weight-training for Baseball.  We’d sneak into the college gym, where they had a little Universal and some free weights.  It felt cool and dangerous, too, because we weren’t supposed to be there, not without permission!  The coach eventually caught us, but he understood and let us lift just the same.  When Baseball ended, my bud stopped working out, and I kept going.  At 16, I weighed 175 pounds. That’s when I decided to enter my first show.

  1. 16 years old, huh? Cripes! 

RICH: The contest was Physique 79, a regional show in New Jersey.  I entered the Teenage division and won 6th place.  Afterwards, a judge told me something I’ll never forget:   “you’re only 16, and you look like that?  You’re gonna make it, kid!”  This was all the encouragement I needed.  In 1980, I tackled the contest again, placing 3rd, and finally brought home the gold a year later.

  1. One of the guys you beat went into the men’s division and won, right?

RICH: Yeah, he did.  I realized then that I could’ve done the same thing.  My world was changing very rapidly, and I needed to stop being so damned cautious.  At that point, National competition was still a dream.  But I dreamt big!  I focused all my energies on breaking out.  The magazines were full of physiques I admired, men who’d overcome their humble beginnings.  That’s what I wanted for myself.

  1. At such a young age, there must’ve been other things going on in your life besides Bodybuilding…

RICH: I had lots of goals, and one was getting a decent education.  After high school, I attended Rutger’s University, originally to study Pre-Med.  I switched to Business Administration because it fit in with my overall plan of one day becoming a business person.  During the 2 ½ years at Rutger’s, I competed, juggling both disciplines at once.  Either I studied or spent time in the gym. There was very little time for partying!  I competed in the Jersey Classic in 82 and scored the Overall.  Two months later, I won the Jr. Nationals and then went into the 1983 Nationals.

  1. I remember reading something about that in Ironman.

RICH: Man, you’ve got a great memory!  I did have some good coverage by Al Antunk; he wrote a little blurb about me in the old Ironman, when it was still being edited by Peary Rader.  My competition for the 83 Nationals read like a Who’s Who: Bob Paris, Rory Leidelmeyer, Matt Mendenhall, Mike Christian, and Phil Williams.  I placed fifth, behind Paris, Leidelmeyer, Mike and Matt.  But they were already Pros and known to the Bodybuilding world.  I was basically just some kid who’d come in out of left field.  Man, I was psyched!  Fifth place!  It really fired me up.

  1. In your everyday college life, how were people reacting to you?

RICH: They thought I was some kind of freak!  People would look at me and yell “flex it, baby!”  I’d go to frat parties and take off my shirt and pose.  But I never got drunk, never did anything “bad.”  If I wanted to win, my eyes had to stay on the prize.  And they were.

  1. Wasn’t 83 when you went to California?

RICH:    That’s right.  Ed Connors, who owned the Gold’s Gym franchise, approached me and asked if I’d be interested in relocating to California and training there.  This was like a dream come true!  What a great opportunity, and–of course–I took him up on his offer.  I trained at the Reseda, California Gold’s Gym.  There were all kinds of Bodybuilders there, people I’d read about in the mags: Al Beckles, Bertil Fox, Cory Everson, Fred Hatfield, Rick Wayne, and Lee Haney. It blew my mind, for a while.  I just couldn’t get over that I was working out with my heroes.  Even now, I get chills thinking about it!

  1. Ah, a chance meeting with the great Haney! Little did either of you know what was in store!

RICH:  Haney was a Pro and had already won the Night of Champions.  He blew my mind!  Wide, wide lats, very small waist.  And tall.  An extremely unusual Bodybuilder.  His genetics were definitely in place.  He also struck me as a nice guy, very friendly.  One day, we’re in the gym, and Lee’s watching me.  “Man,” he says, “you’re a hard trainer.”  I was about 250.  I’d really bulked up and looked pretty mean.  We started talking, and pretty soon, he asked me to be his training partner. We hit it off right from the start.  He helped me train, and we always lifted very strictly. Lee was after the 84 Mr. Olympia, and all his training and dieting centered around that one goal.

  1. How intense were the workouts?

RICH: Extremely intense.  Remember, I was only 20 years old, but I had this burning desire to make it in Bodybuilding.  Lee and I clicked, just like that.  We thought alike, and it even got to the point where I moved in with him!  Our workouts were incredible.  I learned so much from Lee Haney.  It’s ironic, looking back.

  1. What, that you eventually became his main competition?

RICH: Yeah.  I had no idea.  I don’t think he did, either.  Once it entered the picture, our relationship unfortunately changed.

  1. Was this when you were training for the 84 Nationals?

RICH: Oh, yeah–and with a vengeance!  In 83, I was a heavyweight.  In 84, I competed as a light heavyweight and won my category.  I was up against Moses Maldonado, JJ Marsh, and Tom Terwilliger.  Right afterward, I went right into the Mr. Universe, in Las Vegas.  John Hnatyschak, Mike Christian, and me.  We all won our divisions.  We were Team Universe!  I earned my Pro card that night and felt like I’d truly arrived.

  1. Mr. America and Mr. Universe, and at only 21. Amazing!  The move to Cally obviously supercharged your Bodybuilding career. 

RICH: Actually, Rod, I didn’t stay in California.  I’m a Jersey boy, and living in California permanently just wasn’t for me.  I became terribly home sick and figured I really didn’t need to be in California to do well as a Pro.  Going home was a blast–I even returned to my old gym!  Everywhere I went, people were cool to me.  I became like this hometown hero, the local boy who made good, you know?  New Jersey is where I belong, it’s where my roots are.

  1. Were you still hungry?

RICH:  Very!  Once I got out of California, I realized just how far I’d gone.  There’s a certain amount of responsibility that goes along with being a role model, and I wanted to do well, to show others what can happen when you set your sights on success.  My next show was the Night of Champions.  For the Nationals, I’d competed at 188 pounds, in the light/heavyweights, but this wasn’t my true weight.  My body spoke for itself, and I just naturally grew back into a heavyweight.  At the Night of Champions, I planned to shock the Bodybuilding world.

  1. Ripped glutes, incredible striations, hardcore, quality muscle, and all of it wrapped up in a mind-bending posing routine. I don’t think anyone had seen the likes of you before, Rich.

RICH:  I made my mark and came in second to Al Beckles.  A lot of people felt I should’ve beaten him, but I was only 21, a greenhorn.  I had a lot of years ahead of me, but I’d traveled far in a relatively short period of time.

  1. And then it happened: Olympia 1985!

RICH:  I knew, right then and there, that the 85 Olympia would be my next step. Again, I trained like a demon.  I went into it expecting to do well, but when I took third place, I freaked!  The top three, and I was 22 years old!  Lee Haney, Beckles, and me.  Rod, buddy, I couldn’t believe it.  My feelings as I heard the placings simply cannot be put into words.

  1. Sergio made his comeback that year…your impressions of the Myth?

RICH: God.  He was so awesome.  My biggest thrill, by far, was standing on stage with Sergio Oliva.  That guy dazzled a generation.  He’s an icon, and there I was, flexing next to him!  What a privilege.  Hey, I’m getting goose bumps, man!

  1. With such an unexpected victory, your world must’ve changed almost overnight.

RICH: Oh, yeah.  Crazy!  I received tons of publicity, did tons of covers, sat for countless interviews.  It was great, because I could go out on exhibitions and make money as a Pro.  Almost every weekend, I traveled to a different city or country to pose and do seminars.  I always made myself accessible to the Press.  I stayed in shape after every show, because I wanted to look good for photos.  People want to see you looking like you do on stage,  so you can’t let yourself go and pig out in the off-season.

  1. Hadn’t Joe Weider signed you to an exclusive contract? You were all over Muscle and Fitness and Flex. 

RICH: No.  Joe never paid me, and I wasn’t initially under contract to him.  If he needed me for ads and articles and endorsements and things of that sort, I was there…but I made my real money doing seminars and exhibitions.  Today, it’s different.  Pros get contracts.  A lot of promoters were calling me, so my plate was full.   I booked exhibitions, did all the legwork myself.  I didn’t need anyone else taking a cut of my earnings!

  1. Your next contest, the Pro World, turned out to be another Gaspari triumph.

RICH:  Arnold was holding a show in the spring of 85 called the Pro World, and my goal was to win a Pro show.  Everything fell into place!  I came in with ripped glutes.  My skin was paper thin.  I retained a lot of mass.  At 215, I was also shredded to the bone.  I won, hands-down, all first places–beating out my rival Mike Christian.

  1. The Rich Gaspari Express was rollin’!

RICH:   You’d better believe it!  Every show I went into, Rod, I kept improving.  I got better and better.  Bodybuilding was the only thing on my mind.  I wanted to be the best I could be.  My heroes were Arnold, Franco, Robbie Robinson, and to be included in their company would’ve been the ultimate accolade!  You’ve heard of tunnel-vision, right?  Well, I had it hardcore.  Winning was all I could see.

  1. Bro, I don’t know how you survived! What with contest prep, seminars, exhibitions, photo shoots, and publicity, you were workin’ overtime! 

RICH: To be honest with you, I don’t know how I did it, either!  I was incredibly busy.  There were seminars and exhibitions every week, so many that I had to cancel some just to take a breath!  I went from an obscure New Jersey kid to being this top Pro Bodybuilder, with an income of over  $100,000 dollars a year.  An unbelievable experience.  I got to see the world, I traveled, I had millions of people admiring me.  It was very easy to let it go to my head, but I stayed focused, I believed in myself  and my capabilities.  I may have missed stuff like going out to nightclubs and getting drunk, but how many kids go to South America, Argentina, Brazil, Chile, and Egypt, in one year?

  1. How was your friendship with Haney–did it change after the 85 Olympia?

RICH: We’ve always been friends.  But as I moved up in the Bodybuilding world, our relationship suffered a bit, which is understandable.  Haney was at the Pro World and asked Artie Zeller what he thought my chances were for the next Olympia.   Zeller said I’d really improved, and after that, I could see the difference in how Lee responded to me.  He no longer saw me as a friend, first and foremost–I was suddenly his competition.

  1. And your reaction to all this?

RICH:  It bothered me a great deal.  Lee and I were close when we lived together.  I’ll always respect him.  He’s a real gentleman.  But after the Pro World, we kind of lost that closeness.  We were friendly, but not exactly friends, know what I mean?   The publicity machine played up the rivalry, but our friendship has survived.  We’re still close, today.  I was the more conditioned, hardworking Bodybuilder.  He was more genetically predisposed to wider shoulders and a thin waist.  Everyday people felt they could achieve a physique like mine, with the right amount of work and willpower.  I was accessible.  Lee seemed, well, superhuman!

  1. And then, with the 86 Olympia, you both went muscle to muscle.

RICH: And that’s when I started my streak of second places.  I felt like I was gonna take it, I really did.  Not winning blew the air right out of me.  But I wasn’t a defeatist–I got myself together and trained even harder.  My drive was so insane.  In a way, it screwed me up.  My relationships with girlfriends was damaged, because I just didn’t have the quality of time to devote to them.  I focused completely on Bodybuilding.

  1. The 87 Olympia saw and new and improved Rich Gaspari, but Haney refused to budge. What went wrong?

RICH:  I figured, if I could go from third to second, then the next logical step should be #1. People were saying that Lee beat me because he had more mass.  So, I decided to come in at 225, my biggest ever.  It was a mistake.  The judges were also looking for aesthetic conditioning, along with mass.  I tell ya, Rod, if I carried that kind of beef for my 90’s shows, I’d still be slugging it out!

  1. No argument here, man. Your size was outrageous and definitely ahead of its time. 

RICH: Yeah.  I had very big shoulders, vascularity, hardness, but lacked a deep, deep ripped look.  I’d already set a personal standard, and whenever I came in any lower, it always hurt me.  Essentially, I was competing against myself, not Lee Haney.  For the 87, I over-reached and ended up with second place again.

  1. You made up for it at the next Grand Prix.

RICH: I wanted to do well–my goal was to win!  Haney beat me in one of the Grand Prix, and I won all the rest.  I was the #2 Bodybuilder in the world, even though every Bodybuilder wanted a piece of me.  Lee Labrada, Bob Paris, Strydom, Barry DeMey, Mike Christian, Mike Quinn, they were all breathing down my neck.  Especially Labrada, with his excellent aesthetics.  I was the man to get.  All the while, I was busy, with exhibitions and stuff.  The stress reached unbearable levels.

  1. Describe your schedule for us.

RICH:   Well, there was another year of exhibitions and seminars, and that meant traveling all around the world.  I had a fan club and a girlfriend, and we started selling training videos, training courses, diet courses, and photos.  Combine this with prepping for the 88 Olympia, and you’ve got a monster on your hands.  Somehow, I kept it all together.  I trained out in California and lifted at Gold’s Gym, in Venice Beach.  I lived at the Marina Pacifica Motel.  The Olympia was LA-based that year, and I wanted to stay close to my competition.

  1. Your performance at the 88 Olympia stunned everyone, I think. It was a welcomed return to form, but with a big difference. 

RICH: I had that ripped, symmetrical look again, and I brought in more muscle maturity.  And still, the Olympia eluded me!  They started writing articles about how Rich Gaspari was the bridesmaid and never the bride.  After that, I entered The Grand Prix circuit and did seven really grueling shows.  Lee Labrada was on my tail, and I knew it.  He ended up with three wins to my four.  I mean, Rod, it was strenuous, arduous, and difficult for me to stay in shape all the time to hit that circuit.  I killed myself, because I wanted to win, win, win.

  1. Labrada ran with the publicity he got.

RICH: Lee had a feather in his cap, so who could blame him?  He’d beaten Rich Gaspari, the world’s #2 Bodybuilder.  That meant I was vulnerable, and it generated a lot of coverage favoring Labrada.  I tried to take the defeats in stride, but I didn’t like having chinks in my armor.

  1. Sounds like a case of burn-out to me, Richie.

RICH: Yeah.  The Grand Prix burned me out, big-time.  And I had disc problems in my lower back, too.  All that heavy training was starting to do a number on me.  But I didn’t let any of it stand in my way–I still handled a steady schedule of exhibitions and seminars.  I was in demand and very rarely refused offers.

  1. Amidst all this, you were training for the Arnold Classic. How’d you feel about winning, considering your recent disappointments?

RICH:   I was literally on Cloud 9.  Winning the first Arnold Classic resulted in all kinds of great publicity.  I was on Wide World of Sports, the whole deal.  It came along at just the right time in my professional career.   Remember, I started competing at 17, non-stop–and by 26, I’d been at it for ten years.  The Classic represented a pinnacle for me, a reaffirmation of my abilities as a Pro Bodybuilder.  But you know what?  I felt old and tired.  A spark had gone, and I just couldn’t get it back.

  1. Were you toying with early retirement?

RICH: Many thoughts were going through my mind, Rod.  I couldn’t settle on any one thing, except to maintain the status quo.  I trained, did more exhibitions and seminars and spent a lot of time in Italy.  I could speak some Italian and eventually got pretty good at it.  I lived there for three months.  The 89 Olympia was going to be held in Italy, so I decided to stay and train.  That turned out to be a real mistake.

  1. Too far from your stomping grounds?

RICH:   Way too far!  I enjoyed Italy, but it’s a foreign country and didn’t have the same feel.  The equipment left a lot to be desired, too.  I followed different advice, and it kind of screwed me up.  My diet went haywire.  I had to come in extra shredded, because that’s what I was known for–and I placed fourth.  Vince Taylor, a new kid on the block, beat me.  Hitting a top 4 spot in the Olympia is a great accomplishment, but people were saying, “oh-oh, you’re finished.”  After being #2 all those years, it was a step down for me.  I felt bad, but frankly, I was also very relieved.  I lived in a kind of vacuum and didn’t really enjoy what a young person should enjoy.  I loved traveling, but even that was limited to driving by and glancing at some famous landmark.

  1. The hectic life of a Pro Bodybuilder isn’t all glamour and excitement.

 RICH: Hey, that’s an understatement.  The worry, stress, frustration and anger can do an emotional number on just about anyone. I did feel like withdrawing.  But I thought, this is a business, and I’m doing really, really well.  There’s no reason why I should retire. One of these days, I’m gonna write a book about it.  People would be surprised.  So much goes on behind the scenes!

  1. Everyone seemed a little off at the 1990 Olympia. Drug-testing took an obvious toll–even Haney looked washed-out.  

RICH:  Ben Weider was on a crusade to get Bodybuilding into the Olympics, and he felt steroids were holding the Sport back.  I found it very difficult to compete in that condition.  Lee won, with Labrada, second, and I came in 5th.  For me, it just wasn’t the same Olympia.  I looked good, but I could’ve placed higher.  Things were definitely changing for me…

  1. You mentioned that earlier…you mean, burn-out?

RICH: Yeah.  I was very intense, maybe too intense, as a person.  I let a lot of things pass me by, including important things, like deaths in my family.  It’s not that I didn’t care or whatever, but I simply wasn’t exploring Rich Gaspari, the person.  He’d been left somewhere along the road.  After such a frenzied schedule, competing every single year, I should’ve taken a breather.  As a result, I felt very one-dimensional, like the wind had been taken out of my sails.

  1. Instead, you ignored the warning signs and kept up a frantic pace.

RICH: Well, I had a great career in Bodybuilding, that’s why I decided to keep on competing.  I would do it more for fun, instead of devoting my entire life to winning.  People wanted to see me, and I made good money from exhibitions and seminars.  By this time, I saw Bodybuilding more as a business than an athletic pursuit.  My era was the first to have Bodybuilders who actually made money from competing and being a champion.  That’s what motivated so many people to enter our Sport.  But it’s not as fun as one might think.  How can it be?  You’re constantly worrying about how you look, constantly on a diet, constantly miserable.  Oh, I was so critical about how I looked.  And maintaining low bodyfat year in and year out wreaked havoc on me.  I started getting injuries.

  1. What about your involvement with the WBF? I heard they were wooing you with a passion. 

RICH: That’s an interesting story.  The World Bodybuilding Federation, or WBF, was a new Bodybuilding organization put together by wrestling promoter Vince McMahon.  He’d been incredibly successful turning Wrestling into a cash cow and wanted to do the same with Bodybuilding.  In 1991, right before the Olympia, McMahon convinced a bunch of Pro Bodybuilders to go into his show.  He went after some big names, like Berry DeMey, Strydom, Jim Quinn, and he also approached me.  The money blew me away!  So much more than what I’d been making as a Weider boy.  Remember, Joe didn’t give out contracts, per se, not back then.  I made money, sure, but I earned every penny.  I was my own agent, did my own books.  The Weider magazines handed me free publicity, and that’s basically how I was compensated.

  1. What were the terms of McMahon’s contract?

RICH: He wanted to give me a quarter of a million dollars a year for two years.  Believe me, that was the hardest decision I ever made in Bodybuilding.  I thought, wow, I can get all this dough and not have to book any more exhibitions or do anything but lift!  A tug of war began between the two organizations, and I was in the middle…either sign with McMahon or stay with Weider.  Mr. Olympia was still in my blood, and if I went with McMahon, it would mean that the Olympia door would be closed to me for at least two years.  Weider offered me a contract, as well, with a good amount of money, but nowhere as near as much as the WBF.  All this haggling convinced Joe to see the value in offering his stars contracts, something that’s helped Bodybuilding immeasurably.

  1. You never signed with the WBF. Why?

RICH: It came down to this: if I went with the WBF, I’d be banned from the IFBB for life.  Even if I stayed with them only two years, my Pro Bodybuilding career would be finished.  With the WBF, it was one salary, and that’s it.  I figured I could benefit more from the IFBB and refused McMahon’s offer.  Don’t me wrong–I almost signed on with the WBF.  It was very tempting, but I didn’t get into Bodybuilding for the money.  I competed for love of the Sport.  In the end, I stayed with the IFBB.  I still wanted to be Mr. Olympia!

  1. Ever regret your decision, Rich?

RICH: Oh, yeah, many, many times.  For one thing, it was never true they banned the athletes for life.  I could’ve taken McMahon’s money and still been with the IFBB.  But I stayed loyal.  It set a trend for athletes getting contracts.  That’s why the Sport has become more lucrative, so one good thing came out of that mess.  The WBF flopped–it lasted only three years.  A lot of the Bodybuilders paid fines and went back into the IFBB, but none of them have had much success.  Even Strydom has all but given up competing.

  1. The 91 Olympia was not only Haney’s last, but Richie Gaspari’s. Would you consider it a turning point in your career?

RICH:   Basically, yeah.  While preparing for the show, I was still burnt out.  My drive had been drained away, and competing just didn’t thrill me, anymore.  And then I placed poorly.  I made the top 10 but had fallen back a few notches.  It devastated me.

  1. You were at a cross-roads, my friend.

RICH: That Olympia was the writing on the wall.  I earned good money in Bodybuilding, and money became my motivation.  It completely changed my perspective on the Sport, and I didn’t like that change.  Suddenly, Bodybuilding was more a job than anything else.  My career took a strong detour.  New people were making headway in Bodybuilding, really hungry athletes, and maybe it was time for me to step away.

  1. But you weren’t done, yet…not until the 92 Arnold Classic.

RICH: Where I got 7th place!  A far cry from what I’d been accustomed to…so that cinched it for me, I was done.  My decision had to do with a number of factors, not just lower placings.  At the time, I was going through a divorce, and my personal life felt apart.  The business-side of things stayed steady; I’d bought a gym in1990 and concentrated on making that work.  But honestly?  I just wasn’t happy.  I felt I should be doing more after having been a world champion.  Not to be cocky, but I’d achieved quite a bit–people recognized me all over the world.  And I was only 29 years old!  No way did I want to be put out to pasture.  Starting so young and winning early proved a double-edged sword.  I don’t believe you can stay that intense for too many years without something giving.  Instead of trying to get back on the horse, I totally got out of competing.

  1. Did Joe release you from your contract?

RICH:   I was so burnt, Rod, I just didn’t want to compete any more.  Weider closed my contract, and I stopped training for almost 6 months.  My life slowed down to a certain extent, but I was still busting my ass working 12 hours a day in my gym and doing personal training.  I also conducted exhibitions and seminars, though nowhere near the amount as before.  The slower place allowed me time for introspection.  I needed to see where I’d been and where I was going, because I knew one thing: Rich Gaspari just wasn’t a happy camper.  Eventually, I felt good enough to start training again, not that I was ever really out of shape.

  1. What brought you back?

RICH: A drive, Rod.  The Bodybuilding bug.  It’s in my blood.  You just can’t get rid of it!  So, I decided to compete in 94 and tried to get myself ready in 6 months, which wasn’t enough time.  I totally flopped.  It was the first time in my Pro life that I didn’t place in the top ten.  Training and a goal kept me motivated, but I needed more time. I competed again the next year, against Ron Coleman, Wheeler, and Dillett in the Canada Cup.  Coleman won the show, and I made the top five.  I felt good about it, even though I still wasn’t winning.  In 96, I competed again, and the results were disappointing.  My drive was gone–to eat, sleep, and train Bodybuilding.  There had to be more to life.

  1. The Muscle Grapevine hinted at a Gaspari comeback in 97. Truth or rumor?

RICH: It’s true.  Like I said, I just couldn’t keep away from it!  I’d gotten pretty big–245–and hard and had planned to go into the Canada Cup and Night of Champions.  Then, disaster.  I received a debilitating neck injury.  I was in bed for two months!  I went from using 150 pound dumbbells to not being able to pick up 40 lb barbells with my right arm.  The nerve was pinched.  Every time I so much as shifted, excruciating pain shot down my right arm.  I had to be fed in bed, I couldn’t even stand.  My weight dropped from 245 to 190 pounds.  The doctors told me I’d never train or compete again.  Well, as soon as I was able to move around, I went to the gym.  I began doing things like 10 pound flys, slowly increasing my strength and rerouting my nerves.  It was an uphill battle and very frustrating.

  1. Have you had many debilitating injuries over the years?

RICH: Compared to some guys I know, I’ve been lucky.  Besides pinching that nerve, I also tore a fiber in my pec and ruptured a neck disc.  All of them were quite painful!  I immediately consulted an orthopedic surgeon, who put me on anti-inflammatory drugs.  You have to rest and let the blood subside from your injury.  Anything that affects your appearance should be looked at and treated medically.  Certain injuries–like tearing a bicep–need surgery.

  1. Looking at you now, I’d never guessed that only three short years ago you weighed 190 pounds! If anything, your mass is on the competitive scale. 

RICH: Thanks.  Actually, my injury helped me out.  While I was recuperating, I had quite a bit of time to reflect.  What did I want to do with my life?  The business side of Bodybuilding had always intrigued me, and I’d been working for Apex, a computerized nutritional program.  It suddenly dawned on me: why sell someone else’s product, when I could do better?  I’d studied nutrition in college.  I could develop my own supplement line.  And that’s when Gaspari Nutrition was born.

  1. Are you into it 24/7?

RICH: I still train five days a week, 1 ½ hours a day, but business comes first.  Right now, I’m back up to 230.  Looking good is a necessity in a business like mine…people have to see the results of your dieting and training program.  Business was slow, at first, and I sold my gym because it was tying me down.  From there, I started to evolve into being more of a Businessman than a Bodybuilder.

  1. What? You’re through with competitive Bodybuilding?!  Say it ain’t so, Rich! 

RICH: Oh, I may get into it again, who knows?  The one thing I’m considering– and I think about it all the time– is the Masters Olympia.  Once you’re a Bodybuilder, you’re always a Bodybuilder.  The discipline I attained as a Bodybuilder, I now use in business.  It’s the same discipline and the same focus–and there’s no way you cannot be successful.  I’m competing against big, big companies, making my business grow, like my body grew.

  1. You’re attacking it on all fronts. The website’s cool, and you’ve become more visible, as of late.  Everybody’s been wondering what happened to the great Richie Gaspari–now, we know!

RICH: My website’s proved an invaluable selling tool.  It describes all my product line, everything I offer.  I also have a toll free number, so people can call with any questions on my products.  I’ve also started to judge in the IFBB.  It’s funny–now, all the pros can see me on the other side of the fence!  I’ve judged the Night of Champions and women’s fitness shows.  It’s certainly not glamorous, but I like keeping my hand in.  I’m also doing a lot of sponsoring–like the Ms. Olympia and Mr. Olympia.  It’s nice to be considered a living legend and to have inspired others.  It feels really good.

  1. 1999 was a rough year. You lost your dad, and I understand he was a big influence in your life.  Tell us a little about him. 

RICH: Rod, losing my father had to be the hardest thing that I’ve ever experienced.  I’ve always been very close to my family, and one of the biggest inspirations throughout my career and one of my biggest fans was my father.  In February, 1999, I lost him.  He was not only my dad, but my friend.  He was so proud of me, and it feels great to have had that, to look back on when missing him starts to hurt.  My dad came into this country with nothing but a dream.  He was already in his 40’s and started all over again, establishing a business, supporting his family, and building houses.  His is a very inspiring story.  What do you do when life is at its bleakest?  Well, he didn’t let anything hold him down, nothing at all.  And he was so brave.  He’d want me to go on and not give up on life, even though I miss him terribly, every day.  I have to be the same way, to continue on.  He’s watching over me, I can feel it.

  1. Heartfelt words. I can relate.

RICH: My advice for anyone is to cherish your parents, love your siblings.  Life’s only a temporary thing, so try to make the best of it, in every way.

  1. That’s a great philosophy to live by, my friend–and the perfect way to end our time together. I’ve learned something today! 

RICH:  Well, Rod, you go up and down, and now I’m on my way up again.  Fame and glory don’t last forever.  Thank God, I’ve never changed, never forgotten my roots–that little kid who liked to read comic books is still inside of me. I find something interesting in everything I do, and the future?  Hey, it’s looking great!


Interview conducted winter 2000