Bob Paris, a gay former Mr. Universe who came out of the closet in the July issue of Ironman magazine in 1989, admitted recently that he suffered death threats following his announcement. Later that year, Bob Paris would marry his bodybuilding boyfriend, Rod Jackson, and discuss his announcement on the Oprah Winfrey show. In a recent video shared on Oprah: Where Are They Now?, Paris revealed that life after coming out was very difficult and even cost him his first openly gay relationship.
In the 1980’s, Bob Paris was considered one of the best bodybuilders in the world. It was his 1983 IFBB Mr. Universe win that ultimately thrust the secretly gay athlete into the professional world of bodybuilding. Each year, he continued to rise in popularity, but underneath it all he felt he was hiding who he really was. Paris had such an impressive physique and stage presence, that no one would have ever considered him gay. In 2006, Flex Magazine called him the most “aesthetic athlete” in the history of bodybuilding.
Bob Paris coming out as a gay Mr. Universe shocked the sports and mainstream media in the late 80’s. He was touted as the next Steve Reeves, portraying a muscular appearance without looking unnatural. At a time when discussions about AIDS and homosexuality struck fear into most Americans, Paris was taking an unknown step. Very few male athletes would have ever considered taking such a step at the time. Even today, Michael Sam and Jason Collins are considered anomaly’s for their decision to come out.
But Bob Paris was not fully prepared for what would happen next. The former Mr. Universe was forced to retire from bodybuilding in 1991 because he was having trouble finding work. Work was not his only concern. The rampant homophobia of that era nearly cost him his life.
“I lost about 80 percent of my business. Literally had doors closed in my face… There were a number of times where my life was threatened. Some death threats came by phone, by mail.”
After seven years of being together, Paris and Jackson split up. The former Mr. Universe was devastated. A strong, Type A personality, he felt he was letting down the gay rights cause and proving objectors right. After spending years in the international spotlight as an activist, speaker, and actor, Paris retreated to a very privatized life. It was there that he met a new love and his future husband, Brian LeFurgery.
“Being able to finally make our marriage legal in 2003 healed a spot in my soul that had been wounded from the time I was 14 years old and first realized I was a gay man,” Paris said.
What do you think has changed about culture to have a different response to gay athletes now as opposed to how former Mr. Universe Bob Paris was treated?
[Top Image Via Flicker By Alan Light – Second Image Via Flicker]