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By Lonnie Teper
Photography by Michael Neveux
From Ironman magazine, July 1989

Bob 1989Let’s take an excursion back in time, shall we? How ‘bout six years. It’s 1983, and Bob Paris is the supreme dignitary of amateur bodybuilding after convincing wins at the Nationals and World Amateur Championships. At 6 feet and 220 pounds, Paris had knock-‘em-dead good looks to go along with what some people were calling the most symmetrical body of all time. The second coming of Steve Reeves. And only 23 years old to boot! We all shoulda been so blessed!

Joe Gold’s feelings were echoed by most folks who followed the pastime: If anybody could ever dominate the sport again as Arnold once did, it just had to be Bob Paris and Lee Haney. These two were definitely at The Head of the Class.

Well, Joe, one out of two ain’t so bad anyhow. After all, Haney has fulfilled your prediction of dominance. Five consecutive Mr. Olympia crowns and, considering the ease with which the achievement has been handled, Lord knows how many more.

Paris? Oh, Bob’s still around, though he’s never reached the heights most of us foreshadowed. It’s not that Paris’ pro career has really been a bust. But it certainly hasn’t been The Wonder Years, either.

Sure, the pros are a long way from the land of the novice. Just ask some of the National champs who’ve been called, among other things, duds. First-class busts. Ask them about the pressure from all the media adulation and the expectations therein.

Bob Paris knows about demands. And not just the ones that come when you leapfrog from one athletic level to another. Paris has been carrying an additional onus over the years. He’s been in-fighting with his soul, going to bed at night not knowing which way to turn. Should he continue tormenting himself to please the world around him, or should he be true to himself?

On a sunny, postcard-perfect February day at World Gym in Venice, Bob Paris decided it was right, for the very first time in his career, to speak about reality rather than the illusory visions perceived by most of those around him. Truth or Consequences time.

IM: After an extraordinary career on the amateur level, how is it that you’ve never reached the heights predicted for you as a professional?

Bob TalksBP: In thinking about that time period, I realize I had always been real goal-oriented. And one of the things I set up for myself at that time was to win the Nationals and the Universe. Okay, in your mind when you set yourself up for that goal—and get past it—sometimes you have difficulty getting beyond that. Where you’re going to from there.

I think what happened to me in that time period is a classic example of what happens to a lot of people who ascend from the top amateur level to the professional level. I had an incredible amount of work offers for seminars and guest posings that sustained me. Ironically, the goals that you set up for yourself can lead you away from what helped you attain those goals in the first place.

So for a short time my focus was diffused. I still had a picture in my mind of what I wanted for my physique, but the purity wasn’t there. The purity of going into the same gym, doing the same workout in that continuous cycle. And I was only 23 at that time, mature in a lot of ways and immature in others.

IM: In addition to the normal stresses you’ve talked about, you’ve had something tormenting you over the past few years. You’ve been private about it to date with the media, but now I understand you finally want to clear the air.

BP: Yes, I do. We’ve been talking about my life and things that have happened since 1983. In all the other times I’ve ever spoken in interviews, I’ve always skirted around in certain issues like my family. I’ve been protected by the bodybuilding media. The pressures that have been there came from a lot of different directions. You talk about going from the amateur to the pro level, but it was much more than that.

I’m gay. However, my burden is not my gayness but that I was raised by my family and by society to hate myself for being gay. I grew up being taught to dislike the person I really was. It was a very difficult cycle to break out of.

Basically, the point that I’m at in my life now is that I’ve developed a level of pride and a level of honesty and a level of self-assurance. I’ve fought very hard in overcoming a lot of the self-hate that is involved around the issues of gayness and a person’s acceptance and self-acceptance in society.

Bob & RodA lot of that strength has come from the fact that I have a real firm family base to operate from. My husband, Rod, is very important to me. We met over two years ago, and it was basically love at first sight. I was giving a seminar in Denver at the gym where he trained. I walked in, we looked at each other, and it was—BAM. We both knew we were destined to spend the rest of our lives together.

Rod is a former social worker who is currently a top body and fitness model. He’s preparing to go back to school either to get his master’s in clinical psychology or to get a law degree to pursue civil rights work.

This man has been responsible to a great extent for giving me the strength and the pride to be who I am. Because I’m a private person and I was also fighting my fear of the repercussions of being gay in both my profession and my society, I had to learn a new level of self-love.

To be totally honest, I have come very close to losing what I consider the one true love of my life. Rod felt very strongly that unless I became more open, proud and self-loving of who I was and stopped placing him second behind my career, it wasn’t worth bastardizing himself and the true love we had searched our whole lives for any longer.

What I’m doing in this interview, Lonnie, is setting the record straight. All my family, friends and peers know that I’m gay. I have been very open in every area except the media for the last two years. In the profession Rod and I are seen as a married couple, just like Lee and Robin Labrada are perceived as a married couple, so in a way this was just another brick in my wall of pride. We travel together all the time, as much as Rod’s work will permit, and are a normal married couple.

We live an average life, just like anyone else. My moral standards are as high as anyone else’s. We don’t sleep around. We have a wonderful dog, Samantha, and a blue and gold macaw named Barney who we dote on as our children.

We love many of the same things, particularly when it comes to outdoor activities. Our favorite vacation is when we go backpacking off in the wilderness for a week. Cycling is another one of our favorite pastimes. We are eventually planning to leave Los Angeles for a quieter, simple life, probably somewhere in the Pacific Northwest.

What I would like to do is not skirt this issue, but deflate its sensationalism and speak of the things that I am proud of in my life. I want people to know that when Bob Paris talks about his family, it’s not going to be avoided. He’s talking about Rod, his soulmate, the man who stands by his side and the person he stands by.

IM: Your honesty is to be admired, but let’s be realistic. You’ve touched on being fearful of repercussions because of this revelation. Will it hurt you with your fans? And should it?

Making a pointBP: I don’t think it should. Number one, I’m a married man. What does my sexuality have to do with my bodybuilding? I’m not going to go to bed with anyone, so it doesn’t matter if I’m gay, straight or whatever. My sexuality is a moot point.

Number two, maybe it has hurt my bookings, and even my placings in shows, I don’t know. But I can’t cling to that. I must listen to my heart and maintain my own priorities for happiness. I may even have held myself back from achieving my potential over the years because I was struggling within myself to find the level of self-love that is so important to becoming a champion.

I want the issue to be open. I want people to realize I am a gay, married man, and I guess there will be people out there who won’t like my physique anymore because I’m gay. That makes me laugh. What does my gayness have to do with my physique?

People don’t talk about Lee Haney as “the great black bodybuilder.” Or Rich Gaspari as “the great heterosexual bodybuilder.” Lee and Rich are simply great bodybuilders. Why should I be spoken about in those limited, prejudiced terms?

I want it to be known that I’m not a single man, and I don’t want to have to live the lie that I am. I am in a commitment that I will struggle and fight to keep and nurture the rest of my life. Think of me what you want, but this is reality. I have found what people search their whole lives to find. I can’t hold onto the fact that people may hold that against me. I’ve already gotten past that point, and Rod’s mainly responsible for me get to this level of honesty and pride. And if it wasn’t for this commitment, I’m sure I would be as strong as I am today.

IM: In 1986 you retired from competitive bodybuilding. You even told me at the World Gym Grand Opening in March 1987 that there was no chance you’d ever compete again.

BP: That’s true. From just prior to the 1985 Mr. Olympia I was splitting my energies between studying at one of the top acting conservatories in Los Angeles full-time and bodybuilding. I continued that on up until the point when we spoke. I completed the program I was in about two, three months after that.

I was fully convinced I would never compete when I told you that. It’s one of those things again—the very thing that led to my winning the Nationals and World Championships in the first place was the wholehearted belief in what I was saying. I’ve always been an underdog in everything that I’ve done. In the aspect of pursuing a different career, I had to really believe it and vocalize it to follow through on it.

Shortly after that time I found myself at night having dreams of competing again, chomping at the bit to get back to the gym. For the previous year all I was basically doing was running and doing things like pullups and dips through a par course. I stayed out of the gym for about a year.

Bob on stageI made the decision to begin training again around the summer of 1987. What I saw happening was, I could either complete the goals I had since I was 17 years old, dreams of winning the Mr. Olympia, or get out of the sport forever. I was 27 years old, and knew if I walked any farther away from those goals, I’d never come back to them.

I was at a real fork in the road. But I knew I didn’t want to have any regrets. I didn’t want to be 60 years old and look back and think of what could have been.

Of course, Rod questioned where my decision to compete again came from. Was I listening to my heart or going back to what was familiar? There were certain aspects of bodybuilding he didn’t care for, but he was very supportive once I made my decision. I needed to do my work with pride and follow through.

It was sort of a night and day decision. The acting is put on hold, but I’ll always be involved in the theater, no matter where I am or where I’ll live. The film industry just doesn’t interest me that much. Some people have been able to put together good, solid careers without selling a portion of their soul, and I don’t find, when it’s all measured out, that I can develop a strong career in that field without selling a portion of me that is very dear to myself.

IM: You made your comeback on stage at the Essen Grand Prix in 1987, but it certainly wasn’t an auspicious return.

BP: I went on a European exhibition tour at that time and found out the Europeans were anxious to see what I was up to. After the ’87 Mr. O there was the first European Grand Prix tour with three competitions. I trained on the road for three months, then decided to enter the Essen event just to see where I was.

I had made a lot of progress in my training, going from 198 to around 230 by the time the show came around. I didn’t do anything in the contest, really [Paris placed 10th], and probably disappointed my fans who hoped my comeback would be a bigger splash.

But I saw the show as a success. What it did was give me a monitor to go by. At that point, I knew that things I had done in the past were not going to work as effectively. It taught me not to use a closed system.

IM: All things taken into consideration, you had a good year in 1988. Third-place finishes at the Niagara Falls Invitational and Night of Champions, a 10th place spot in your return to the Mr. Olympia and fairly good showings on the tour that followed. But there are those who insist you’ve never achieved the condition you did at the Nationals.

BP: I disagree with that. First off, nostalgia is always greater than reality. People can always look back and see things as being different then. The memory has a great ability to take things and twist them. In my estimation, when I’m on I have a better look now. My body has matured since that time. I had a kid’s body then…I have man’s body now.

I was happy with my showing in 1988. I competed in 11 shows overall and was at my best by the time the tour came to a close. I feel that, out of everyone on the whole tour, my body improved the most dramatically. I feel that 1989 will show Bob Paris to be in the absolute best shape of his life.

IM: Let me put you on the spot. If everyone shows up in their absolute finest condition, are you the supreme bodybuilder in the world?

Head shotBP: I’m the most genetically gifted bodybuilder in the sport. It’s easy for a bodybuilder to sit around and talk about his overinflated ego because a lot of people are always patting him on the back. But I really feel, with what I’ve learned over the past few years combined with a new sense of maturity in my life, that I’ll be the next Mr. Olympia.

I know there are a lot of great guys out there, but I see me and Haney going head to head at the Mr. Olympia. I’m starting to see the changes in my body that I know are necessary to take me to that level. I don’t have to worry the rest of my career about adding size; it’s just a matter of adding the necessary detail.

IM: A lot of people tell me they feel they can represent the sport in its best interest. Is that one of your goals?

BP: You know, Lonnie, a person’s attitudes evolve and I’ve found that the limelight has been nice, but I have no craving for it, so to speak.

I’ll definitely represent the sport, as I’ve done so far, in the best manner I can. I think, even without specific effort, I am a real good ambassador for the sport. What happens a lot of times is that a lot of people, in thinking they’re doing a good job of representing the sport, tarnish the image. What they’re doing is walking around with an ego on their sleeve.

My approach, and the approach I admire, is one of quiet confidence. Not really blowing your own horn. I see myself as having a good image for the sport, but I’m not going to allow it to be exploited. Again, it’s not going to be one of those things where it will fit within the confines of where I will allow it go.

Everything in life has a price tag, and so you determine the price tag and barter with yourself. You pull out your wallet and say, “Can I afford this.”

IM: There’s one thing for sure. Bob Paris, without hesitation, will gladly pay whatever the cost for being true to himself.