30 Surprising Facts About Arnold Schwarzenegger

     May 10, 2019

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Arnold Schwarzenegger is easily one of the most famous actors in the world. He was a box-office powerhouse in the 80s and 90s, starring in a number of hit action films that still delight fans today. He’s enjoyed a long career as an athlete, an actor, and a politician. However, despite his mega-star status, we’re willing to bet there’s a lot you don’t know about the Austrian Oak.

He Won a Golden Globe For One of His First Roles

Schwarzenegger landed a handful of supporting roles throughout the 1970s as his acting career was building up steam. One of those roles was Joe Santo, a bodybuilder training for the Mr. Universe competition, in the Jeff Bridges film Stay Hungry.

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Image via United Artists

Schwarzenegger was clearly a natural choice for the part, as he was essentially a real-life Joe Santo, but he threw himself into the role anyway. He lost a significant amount of weight for the film, which wound up causing him some problems in his bodybuilding career, but he won a Golden Globe for his performance.

He’s the Youngest Mr. Universe In History

Before he was traveling through time as a relentless cyborg, battling villainous sorcerers and aliens, Schwarzenegger was a champion bodybuilder. (We know, it’s hard to believe.) He won the annual Mr. Universe competition at age 20, becoming the youngest person ever to do so.

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Image via Cinema 5

He didn’t rest on his considerably muscular laurels after that record-breaking win, either. Schwarzenegger continued to compete, and went on to win the Mr. Universe title a staggering four more times before retiring from bodybuilding at age 33 in 1980.

He Had a Legendary Career as a Bodybuilder

Schwarzenegger always dreamed to move to the United States and become a famous actor, and he figured the best way for a poor Austrian kid like him to do that was to become a champion bodybuilder. It’s hard to argue with his results.

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Image via Cinema 5

In addition to his history-making Mr. Universe title at age 20, Schwarzenegger also thoroughly dominated the Mr. Olympia competition. He won the Mr. Olympia title 7 times, nabbing his first victory at age 23, making him the youngest champion ever.

He had a Successful Bricklaying Business

Before he became a legendary bodybuilder and world-famous actor, Schwarzenegger was already a successful businessman. He began his rags-to-riches journey in just about the most unlikely place imaginable – by starting a bricklaying business in California. We suppose if you’re going to hire someone to lay bricks, it might as well be Arnold.

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Image via 20th Century Fox

Schwarzenegger started the business in 1968, when he was only 21 and had just moved to the United States. His partner in the venture was Franco Columbo, a fellow bodybuilder whom Schwarzenegger eventually dethroned in the Mr. Olympia competition. The business was remarkably successful, owing in part to Schwarzenegger’s well-known business savvy and a rise in demand for building materials following the San Fernando earthquake in 1971.

He Was the Governor of California

After acting in Hollywood for three decades, Schwarzenegger decided to try his hand at running the state that had become his home. He served as the 38th governor of California, after Governor Gray Davis was recalled in a special election in 2003.

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Image via TriStar Pictures

Schwarzenegger won the election by a massive margin of 1.3 million votes. He won his re-election by an almost identical margin. To date, Schwarzenegger is only the second foreign-born governor of CA, serving from 2003 to 2011.

He Had a Difficult Home Life

Schwarzenegger’s desire to become a self-made man and leave his home country of Austria might have had something to do with the fact that things at home were very strained. He had a terrible relationship with his father, an Austrian police chief who had sided with Germany in World War II and regularly abused Arnold.

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Image via Lionsgate Films / Roadside Attractions

Part of his father’s overbearing nature was due to the fact that he didn’t believe Arnold was his biological son, favoring Arnold’s older brother Meinhard. When Schwarzenegger finally left Austria for America, he didn’t look back. Although he maintained a close relationship with his mother, he didn’t attend his father’s funeral, nor his brother Meinhard’s.

He Was Originally a Soccer Player

Although he was always athletic, Schwarzenegger wasn’t immediately drawn to weightlifting. Much like the rest of us, Arnold got his start in sports by playing soccer, mostly to try and impress his overbearing father. According to him, he was in shape, but pretty skinny.

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Image via Cinema 5

Arnold’s soccer coach took him and his team to do some weight training at a local gym when Arnold was 14 or 15. From that moment on, Schwarzenegger was hooked. He gave up soccer and began pursuing a career as a professional bodybuilder.

His First Film is a Camp Classic

Schwarzenegger’s first foray into the world of film was the title role in the legendary B-movie Hercules in New York (1969). In the film, Hercules becomes bored with life on Mount Olympus and travels to New York City to engage in delightful hijinks, which include fighting a bear in Central Park and chasing a car full of mobsters in an actual chariot.

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Image via RAF Industries

Schwarzenegger had only recently learned English, and his accent was so thick that the producers of the film were worried nobody would be able to understand him. So, his voice was dubbed over by another actor for the film’s release. You can find the film now with Arnold’s original voice track.

He Was Influenced by Other Athletes-Turned-Actors

Schwarzenegger is a smart guy, but he didn’t come up with his success plan of segueing a bodybuilding career into a Hollywood career on his own. He claims he was heavily influenced by athletes-turned-actors who had followed a similar path, including Johnny Weissmuller, who famously played Tarzan in a series of films in the 40s and 50s.

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Image via TriStar Pictures

Schwarzenegger credits seeing these movies as a kid with his initial inspiration to come to America as a hulking metahuman and become an action-adventure star. He was particularly inspired by Steve Reeves, a fellow Mr. Universe champion who went on to a successful acting career.

He Became a Competitive Bodybuilder at Age 17

Schwarzenegger became so obsessed with working out and sculpting a bodybuilder’s physique that he made sure he lifted every single day. Unfortunately, his local gym wasn’t open on the weekends, but he didn’t let that stop him.

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Image via De Laurentiis Entertainment Group

Arnold would actually break into the gym when it was closed, just so he could get in his crucial Saturday and Sunday workouts. He trained this way for several years as a young teenager before he finally went pro, officially beginning his career as a competitive bodybuilder at age 17.

He Helped Care for His Nephew

Despite their estranged relationship, Schwarzenegger didn’t turn his back on his brother’s family when Meinhard was tragically killed in a car accident. Schwarzenegger paid for his brother’s then 3-year-old son Patrick’s entire education, and later provided support for him to immigrate to America.

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Image via 20th Century Fox

Patrick got a law degree from the University of Southern California School of Law, and worked for both Sony Music and the Los Angeles District Attorney’s Office. He has since become a partner in a California-based law firm, and acted as an advisor to his uncle when Schwarzenegger briefly hosted The Celebrity Apprentice.

He Served in the Austrian Army

Like all Austrian men, Schwarzenegger was required to devote one year of his life to military service when he turned 18. At least, we assume it’s required of all male citizens. They may have just looked into the future, seen Arnold in Commando, and decided to invent the rule just for him.

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Image via 20th Century Fox

Unfortunately, that year of service happened to interfere with Schwarzenegger’s bodybuilding career, which was just beginning to get off the ground. He went AWOL to compete in a bodybuilding competition and was thrown in military jail for a week as a result.

He Lived With His Bodybuilding Coach’s Family

Schwarzenegger found little love and support in his own household, but he found a sort of surrogate family when he moved in with his bodybuilding coach’s family in London. His coach, Charles Bennett, had been a judge at Schwarzenegger’s first Mr. Universe competition, and although Arnold didn’t win, Bennett saw potential in him and offered to be his coach.

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Image via United Artists

Schwarzenegger’s family had always been poor, so consequently he didn’t have any money to pay for room and board while he trained. Bennett moved the 19-year-old Schwarzenegger into his home in London to live with his family while they prepared for Arnold’s second Mr. Universe competition.

In addition to getting appropriately swole for the competition, Schwarzenegger began to learn English, of which he had previously spoken very little.

He Moved to America with Nothing

Schwarzenegger grew up extremely poor in post-war Austria. In fact, he can still remember when his family purchased their first refrigerator, because it was such a momentous occasion. However, he was determined to pursue his dream of becoming a successful actor in America.

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Image via Orion Pictures

Schwarzenegger moved to America when he was just 21 years old. He barely spoke any English and had just as much money to his name, but he started training at Gold’s Gym in Venice, California to prepare for the Mr. Olympia competition. He befriended a few professional wrestlers during his training, including Superstar Billy Graham.

He Was Told His Name Was Too Long and Confusing

Schwarzenegger had virtually everything going against him when he started his acting career. He was told his body was too muscular, his accent was too heavy, and his name was too confusing for him to ever become a success.

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Image via MGM / Universal Pictures

In his first few roles, including Hercules in New York, Schwarzenegger was actually credited as “Arnold Strong.” Arnold quickly dropped the cheesy pseudonym and insisted upon using his real name, which turned out to be the right choice – not only did audiences have no trouble pronouncing “Schwarzenegger,” it’s become synonymous with badass action and is one of the most recognized names in the entire world.

His First Big Hit was a Documentary

Schwarzenegger’s first big success was the documentary film Pumping Iron, which documented the training of several bodybuilders for the 1975 Mr. Olympia competition. The documentary is notable for giving an inside look at the world of competitive bodybuilding, and also for featuring future Incredible Hulk star Lou Ferrigno.

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Image via Cinema 5

Despite purporting to be a “documentary,” the film actually dramatized several elements to build up a rivalry between Schwarzenegger and Lou Ferrigno. In fact, the film essentially frames Schwarzenegger as kind of a villain, which technically marks the first time in his career he played a bad guy.

He Did a Number of Guest Spots on TV

Like many actors, Schwarzenegger spent his early career making guest appearances on television in the 1970s. In addition to guest spots on The Streets of San Francisco and The San Pedro Beach Bums, he had a cameo as a handsome masseuse in the TV movie Happy Anniversary and Goodbye with Lucille Ball and Art Carney.

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Image via CBS

Arnold landed a starring role in the 1980 made-for-TV movie The Jayne Mansfield Story, in which he played Mansfield’s husband Mickey Hartigay. Hartigay, the father of Law and Order: SVU star Mariska Hartigay, was also a bodybuilder-turned-actor and former Mr. Universe champion.

His Two Most Famous Roles Were Only Two Years Apart

Audiences in the 1980s had an appetite for action movies, and after a decade and a half of bodybuilding and honing his acting chops, Arnold was ready to deliver. His breakthrough film Conan the Barbarian opened in 1982, which saw him flexing and swinging a sword through his enemies as the titular ruthless barbarian.

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Image via Universal Pictures

Conan the Barbarian was a hit and spawned a sequel, the PG-rated and much less successful Conan the Destroyer, in 1984. But 1984 would still turn out to arguably be the most important year of Schwarzenegger’s career, as it saw the of his most iconic film The Terminator, which made him a superstar.

He Wasn’t the First Choice for The Terminator

It seems hard to believe now, but Schwarzenegger wasn’t James Cameron’s first choice to play the Terminator. Cameron originally wanted someone who looked very normal and average, and could disappear into a crowd. He had his eye on Lance Henrikson (who would later play the android Bishop in Cameron’s Aliens).

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Image via TriStar Pictures

The studio initially wanted Arnold to play the hero Kyle Reese, but Cameron didn’t want to cast him. He felt Schwarzenegger was too big, and would dwarf any actor they got to play the Terminator. Cameron changed his mind after meeting Arnold and realizing he’d make a great unstoppable killer robot.

His Home Address in Austria was Retired

When you’re as famous as Arnold Schwarzenegger, people will happily retire the address number of your birth house, just like the Chicago Bulls retired Michael Jordan’s jersey. The action star received what we assume was a surprise birthday present from his home country when he turned 60.

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Image via Paramount Pictures

The mayor of Thal, Austria, the city in which Schwarzenegger was born, sent Arnold the address plaque of his childhood home for his 60th birthday, with the message “This belongs to him. No one will ever be assigned that number again.” Arnold was actually born in the house.

His Movies Have Grossed Over $4 Billion

Schwarzenegger was one of the biggest stars in the world in the 80s and 90s, cranking out action hits like Predator, Commando, The Running Man, Total Recall, and Eraser. All told, his films have grossed over $4 billion worldwide. That’s a lot of movie tickets.

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Image via TriStar Pictures

The biggest moneymaker of Schwarzenegger’s career was Terminator 2: Judgment Day, the sequel to the film that made him a mega star. Terminator 2 netted half a billion dollars at the box office and was the biggest hit of 1991, and is still considered to be one of the best action movies ever made.

He’s Played The Terminator 6 Times

Considering the popularity of the time-traveling cyborg assassin in The Terminator and how much of an impact it made on his acting career, it’s no surprise that Schwarzenegger has been happy to appear in a number of Terminator sequels and spin-offs.

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Image via TriStar Pictures

Schwarzenegger has played some version of the T-800 in five films – The Terminator, Terminator 2: Judgment Day, Terminator 3: Rise of the Machines, Terminator Genisys, and Terminator Dark Fate. He even showed up as the Terminator in the Guns n’ Roses video “You Could Be Mine,” which was on the Terminator 2 soundtrack. In the video, the Terminator has apparently been sent back in time to kill Axel Rose.

He Practices Meditation

Despite being a huge movie star, both physically and in terms of stature, Schwarzenegger used to suffer from anxiety. Luckily, the actor found a way to manage it through transcendental meditation. This form of meditation involves sitting quietly and repeating a sound, called a mantra, for 15-20 minutes, twice a day.

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Image via TriStar Pictures

According to Schwarzenegger, anxiety used to be a dominating force in his life. He says mediation helps him sort through things and deal with them in a logical and healthy way, as opposed to all at once in a huge chaotic storm.

He Auditioned to Play the Incredible Hulk (And Lost)

While he was still getting his start in Hollywood, one of the roles Schwarzenegger auditioned for was the role of the Marvel Comics character the Incredible Hulk, in the TV series that would ultimately star Bill Bixby as the Hulk’s mild-mannered alter ego David Banner.

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Image via Cinema 5

However, this was one competition in which Schwarzenegger couldn’t beat his Pumping Iron rival Lou Ferrigno. Ferrigno won the part over Schwarzenegger, and went on to play the Hulk for five seasons and in five made-for-TV movies. It remains Ferrigno’s most well-known performance.

He’s a Big Environmental Advocate

In what may come as a surprise to some, considering his on-screen propensity for explosions and wanton destruction, Schwarzenegger is an outspoken environmentalist. During his tenure as Governor of California, he signed the nation’s first emissions cap on greenhouse gas, the Global Warming Solutions Act of 2006.

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Image via Universal Pictures

Schwarzenegger has a well-known affinity for driving giant SUVs, but he’s taken steps to make his vehicles more eco-friendly. He converted both of his Humvees so that they no longer run on fossil fuels – one runs on hydrogen, the other runs on biofuels.

He’s One of the Most Successful Self-Made Millionaires Ever

Schwarzenegger is one of the most successful self-made millionaires ever. Beginning with a successful bricklaying business, he managed to parlay that into a mail-order business selling exercise equipment and instructional videos.

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Image via Columbia Pictures

He then became a champion bodybuilder, which he wrangled into a career in Hollywood, becoming one of the most recognized and highest-paid actors in the world in the 80s and 90s. His net worth was estimated at between $400 and $800 million before his divorce in 2011.

He Was Married to an Award-Winning Journalist

Arnold’s ex-wife, Maria Shriver, is a Peabody award winning journalist, and the niece of John F. Kennedy. The couple met in the late 1970s and eventually married in 1986. They have four children together, including Katherine, an author, and Patrick, a model and actor.

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Image via Comedy Central

Shriver and Schwarzenegger were married for 25 years. She even appears in Arnold’s 1993 action-comedy Last Action Hero, playing a fictional version of herself. Ultimately, the couple divorced in 2011, after Schwarzenegger admitted to fathering a child with a former housekeeper.

He Kept a Big Souvenir from Batman & Robin

Who could forget Schwarzenegger’s legendary performance as the villainous Mr. Freeze in 1997’s Batman & Robin? For his role as the chilling foe, Arnold was paid a whopping $25 million. However, he apparently felt he was owed a little extra for all the terrible ice puns he delivered in the film.

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Image via Warner Bros.

Schwarzenegger adamantly wanted to take home one of the Mr. Freeze costumes he wore in the film. According to an interview with the film’s producer, Peter MacGregor-Scott, Arnold had to agree to “rent” the costume out for $1 per year, a fee he has presumably been paying ever since.

He Was a Real-Life Terminator During Filming

Schwarzenegger engaged in some real-life Terminator behavior while filming the sci-fi classic. In the scene wherein the Terminator punches through a car window to hotwire the vehicle and steal it, director James Cameron just told him “action” and they did the scene very quickly.

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Image via Warner Bros. Pictures

According to the DVD special features, it wasn’t until later that Arnold found out they hadn’t had a permit to legally film in the street, so Cameron was trying to get the shot as fast as possible, which meant that the car window he punched through was a real window made of actual glass.

He Didn’t Want to Say His Signature Line

When the Terminator told an unsuspecting desk sergeant, “I’ll be back,” before driving a car through the front wall of the police station, nobody knew the scene would become iconic, or that the simple three-word line of dialogue would become Schwarzenegger’s catch phrase throughout much of his career.

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Image via Orion Pictures

However, Arnold initially didn’t want to say the line, for two reasons. For one, his accent made saying the word “I’ll” difficult, so he wanted to say “I will be back.” He also felt it made more sense for his character, insisting that a robot wouldn’t speak in contractions.

Despite Schwarzenegger’s protests, James Cameron refused to change the line. Arnold delivered it as best he could, and it wound up becoming his trademark, working its way into most of his films. He even wrote it in cement next to his hand prints in front of Grauman’s Chinese Theater!

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