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Subject: Archive: Steve Reeves, May 1, 2000

Bodybuilder, actor
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Date Posted: Friday, May 01, 04:38:27pm

Steve Reeves, 74, a former Mr. America and Mr. Universe who let his muscles do the talking in about 20 low-budget Italian films in the 1950s and 1960s, notably as Hercules, died of complications from lymphoma May 1 at Palomar Medical Center in Escondido, Calif.

Mr. Reeves received public attention in 1947 as Mr. America and three years later as Mr. Universe, and he pumped that fleeting fame into a brief but lucrative film career that by the late 1960s made him the highest-paid actor in Europe.

Although he also appeared in some so-called spaghetti westerns, his mainstay was the "sword and sandal" mythology-based epics known for their poorly dubbed dialogue and cheap, often ridiculous special effects.

Mr. Reeves starred in "Hercules Unchained," "The Last Days of Pompeii" and "Goliath and the Barbarians," all variations on the best-known part he ever had, as the partially clad ancient adventurer Hercules in Pietro Francisci's 1957 film of the same name.

The role form-fitted his 6-foot-1, 215-pound frame, which boasted a 52-inch chest and 29-inch waist. And with a perfectly manicured beard and his thick, black hair in a slight pompadour, he was a hipper Hercules than other actors who tried to tackle the mighty role.

Reviewing a 1983 version of "Hercules" starring former Mr. Universe Lou Ferrigno, Washington Post film critic Gary Arnold wrote that Mr. Reeves was "vastly more persuasive and heroic." To Ferrigno and others who succeeded Mr. Reeves as top-tier professional bodybuilders, Mr. Reeves was an athletic icon.

For his part, Mr. Reeves approached his movie legacy earnestly. "I tried to do my parts as true and sincere as I could and put as much into them as I could," he told The Post in a 1983 interview. "And when I did my feats, it looked like a man of superhuman strength doing a feat. It didn't look like a fake or a special effect."

Indeed, he disliked the equivalent of special effects in bodybuilding and spent his post-film career advocating drug-free ways to sculpt the body. He also remained a topical subject for muscle magazines and wrote fitness books, including "Power Walking" and "Building the Classic Physique: The Natural Way."

Mr. Reeves was born in Glasgow, Mont., and grew up in Oakland, Calif. He told The Post he led a physically active childhood and began a bodybuilding career at age 16 after he and others noticed his frequent trips to the gym were paying off. He claimed he once gained 30 pounds of muscle in three months.

By 1946, he had won Mr. Pacific Coast and went on to receive bigger titles. He appeared in small television roles, and his first films included appearances in the bargain basement crime drama "Jail Bait," directed by Ed Wood, and the Jane Powell musical "Athena," both in 1954.

His last part was the lead in an Italian-made western, "A Long Ride From Hell," in 1968. He reportedly turned down the main part in the hit 1964 Sergio Leone western, "A Fistful of Dollars," a role that made Clint Eastwood a star.

Mr. Reeves, who at his death lived on a ranch near Escondido and raised horses, maintained a strict workout regimen until his death. He learned he had lymphoma eight weeks ago.

His wife, Aline, died in 1989. He leaves no immediate survivors.

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