Gorilla Suit: My Adventures in Bodybuilding


"I built my American dream one rep at a time," says Bob Paris in Gorilla Suit, an unguarded memoir of his rise to the top of the world of professional bodybuilding.

This is the first-ever, honest, behind-the-scenes look into the world of professional bodybuilding and what the actual life of a bodybuilder is like. Paris show us bodies to the limit, and beyond, and discusses the price bodybuilders pay for this perfection, which includes the use of dangerous growth drugs. Paris ...

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"I built my American dream one rep at a time," says Bob Paris in Gorilla Suit, an unguarded memoir of his rise to the top of the world of professional bodybuilding.

This is the first-ever, honest, behind-the-scenes look into the world of professional bodybuilding and what the actual life of a bodybuilder is like. Paris show us bodies to the limit, and beyond, and discusses the price bodybuilders pay for this perfection, which includes the use of dangerous growth drugs. Paris also looks at the driving forces behind the business of bodybuilding, including the extraordinary story of the Weider brothers.

This is a story about chasing a dream, being willing to do anything to get that dream, and then growing frustrated with the world that dream is lived in. It is the discovery that after years of climbing a mountain and finally reaching the top, perhaps on reconsideration it was the wrong mountain to begin with.

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Editorial Reviews

From the Publisher
"An apologia for every hard-core bodybuilder who understands that while their pursuit may well destroy their health, it feeds their soul. He's the only writer on bodybuilding who doesn't lie for a living. Bob Paris is the first bodybuilder in history with both biceps and balls." —Sam Fussell, author of Muscle

"Bob Paris has guts to stand up for what he believes-and admirable quality." —Frank Zane, three-time Mr. Olympia title holder

"At once empathetic and scathing, Paris's memoir conveys with equal persuasiveness both why he became a bodybuilder and why he found it impossible to remain one." —Kirkus Reviews

"The perspective Paris brings to this account of his meteoric rise and eventual disenchantment with the world of bodybuilding is, needless to say, fascinating." —City Pages, Minneapolis

Mark Athitakis

Bob Paris wants you to feel his pain. Or maybe just his bulging biceps; he never seems quite sure which. If his memoir reveals anything, it's that a bodybuilder's emotions are inextricably linked to the taut, chiseled body that he suffers to create: A dysfunctional family translates itself into a bench press, loneliness is reworked as a set of leg curls. Paris, a winner of the Mr. America and Mr. Universe contests in the mid-80s, earnestly catalogues his litany of sorrows to point out that beneath his rock-hard exterior lies a human being with the same concerns as those of your average girlie-man. But Gorilla Suit fails to give either him or his sport the kind of poetry or pathos he tries so hard to convey.

Paris' story is a rags-to-riches tale, which he rarely provides with any color beyond simple caricatures and clichés. Growing up in the Bible Belt, the dope-smoking Teenage Loser falls in love with bodybuilding, slowly rises up the Ladder of Fame until he moves to the sport's Mecca, Los Angeles, becomes a world champion, then disowns the muscle world altogether in disgust and frustration. Through that time, he struggles with his Abusive Father, Opportunistic Svengalis, coming out as a Gay Man and the prevalence of steroids in the sport. Paris loves bodybuilding so much that he hates it; he's full of righteous rage about how it could be a major, Olympic-class sport if only it cleaned up, got organized and taught the media that it's more than a circus sideshow of "freaky" bodies.

Paris' honesty and even-handedness are admirable, but that doesn't mean his tale is particularly fascinating. Having already covered the muscleman market in three fitness books and confessed his struggles as a gay man in Straight From the Heart (co-written with his lover, Rod Jackson), Paris intends Gorilla Suit for the general interest market, but it lacks the necessary depth. Its pages of invective aimed at guru Joe Weider -- who almost single-handedly created professional bodybuilding while tacitly allowing its corruption -- might cause a stir amongst Muscle and Fitness subscribers, but most will see him as merely a Crusty-but-Benign Entrepreneur. As for the pathos, it rarely gets more sophisticated than Paris' confession to a friend: "Even when I wear real clothes, I still bulge out of 'em like I'm Frankenstein's monster trying to disguise himself in a tuxedo."

By the book's end, the collision of past and present has all the impact of a 5-pound free-weight landing on a gym floor mat; we've learned a little about bodybuilding and a bit more about Paris himself, but if there's any drama or mystery in an incline dumbbell press, he doesn't expose it. For all those muscles, he's a nice, well-meaning guy, never one who'd kick sand in the face of some 98-pound weakling. So instead he just strolls along the beach by himself, Hallmark-card poetic, kicking sand around at nothing in particular. -- Salon

Kirkus Reviews

A former Mr. Universe, Paris is an unexpectedly eloquent guide through his bodybuilding career, wiping off the posing oil to reveal a sport populated by insecure, drug-gobbling competitors, all beholden to a single Machiavellian puppet master.

Paris, who has previously cowritten a perky memoir of gay marriage, Straight from the Heart (1994), and several exercise books, started lifting weights as a teenager in the late '70s, discovering in this pastime an enticing, self-esteem-building alternative to partying with his slacker friends and enduring the abuse of his alcoholic father. After being thrown out of the house at 19, Paris made his way to the bodybuilder's mecca, L.A., and endured many harrowing months of struggle before getting steady work as a trainer and winning his first competitions. Although Paris believes bodybuilding to be an intrinsically worthy sport, he paints a damning portrait of its chief booster, Joe Weider, who publishes muscle magazines and sells training equipment and nutritional supplements; Weider's brother is the head of the organization that sanctions competitions and awards the titles. Bodybuilders make their money on contracts with Weider for endorsements and appearances; to be useful endorsers, they need exposure in his magazines and, of course, victories in his brother's contests. Paris carefully expresses his gratitude for Weider's sometime support, but he also suspects that calling for drug testing and being openly gay cost him titles in the latter part of his career. The book alternates between past history and the issues involved in Paris's recent contemplation of a comeback at age 35: Unwilling to go back on the steroids that give musclemen their "freaky" bodies, and wary of the Weider way of doing business, Paris seems understandably unlikely to return to the fray.

At once empathetic and scathing, Paris's memoir conveys with equal persuasiveness both why he became a bodybuilder and why he found it impossible to remain one.

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Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9780312194581
  • Publisher: St. Martin's Press
  • Publication date: 10/28/1998
  • Edition description: First Edition
  • Edition number: 1
  • Pages: 288
  • Product dimensions: 6.22 (w) x 9.18 (h) x 0.74 (d)

Meet the Author

Bob Paris, who held the titles of Mr. Los Angeles, Mr. Southern California, Mr. America, and

Mr. Universe, is the author of three fitness books and coauthor of the memoir Straight From

The Heart.

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Read an Excerpt

It was obvious from the start of the judging of the teenage heavyweight class that I was one of the favorites to win. It would either be me or this other guy, against whom the judges kept comparing me throughout the prejudging.

And this prejudging stuff was hard. If anyone wanted to say that bodybuilding competitions were nothing more than glorified beauty contests, with nothing athletic about them, they should've been required to go through a full competition prejudging. That would have given them a different perspective.

You stand onstage, supposedly relaxed, but actually totally flexed while standing there looking relaxed. Every fiber is tensed, as if you're doing a full-body isometric contraction, for half an hour or more, without letting up. When the judges call two or three athletes out of the lineup to compare them, if you are one of those guys, you go through and hold the poses that they call for, while they compare every detail of your physique and condition against those.of the other guys who've been called out with you. Holding a pose is, again, like an extended full-body contraction, and you go through one pose after the other, all the while with your heart pounding at coronary pace, because you are in the heat of competition and in front of a critical, seen-it-all audience -- with all those things adding up to increase the intensity of the flexing. When the judges finish taking you through the mandatory poses, you return to the lineup feeling as if you have just run twenty wind sprints while carrying an anvil. And you go back to that lineup and once again stand looking as if you're just standing there, but with every cell, from the neck down, tightly crunched. And then they call you out again for more comparisons, usually right when you have almost, but not quite, caught your breath from the last time around, until all the athletes in the running have been totally scrutinized by every judge. The judges make their placements, first place through last. That half an hour -- or up to an hour if lots of people are in your weight class -- onstage during prejudging seems like ten days, and you wonder what it ever felt like not to stand there straining against the exhaustion of your well-trained body. You are an athlete who can push himself through torturous hours in the gym, but you'll leave the stage at the end of prejudging looking for a place to collapse. If your mind isn't ready for this process, your body won't follow.

Two guys dropped out during the prejudging, one complaining of severe cramps, the other needing to vomit and possibly faint -- and maybe both simultaneously. After everyone in the class had been compared, the judges called out this other guy (whom I was being compared against the most) and me. They ran us through all the compulsory poses three times, and we looked at each other -- in between a front double biceps and a front lat spread, on the second time through -- as if we were both thinking, What the hell are they doing, trying to kill us? And then it was over, until the night show.

In the backstage dressing room, T.J.'s friend Tony started telling me how superior my physique was to that other guy's -- while the other guy got dressed right next to me. Tony asked us to both stand up -- and for some reason we both did -- and began to compare us body part by body part, all the time running this other guy down and talking up my superiority. I could tell that the other guy (I didn't even know his name because the judges had called us out of the lineup according to the numbers we wore pinned to the front of our posing trunks) was beginning to feel a little intimidated, especially when Tony said that he might be in slightly better condition, but I had, by far, the superior physique and would go much further in the sport. I was flattered by what Tony said, but thought that it was unnecessary to make this guy feel bad. I told Tony so too, after the other guy left (before he'd left the dressing room, he said that his name was Billy, and we shook hands and said that we'd see each other back there later), but Tony told me not to get mad because he was only trying to help me by psyching Billy out.

Frank Zane was the guest star at the contest. He'd already won two Mr. Olympias and was going to guest-pose at the night show. I was excited to meet him, having read all about him in the magazines -- about his famous Olympia battle against Robby Robinson the year before, how he used to be a math teacher, was an archery expert, and was into meditation and yoga. I could probably tell him more about his life than he knew. I wanted to tell him about Will, back at Indiana State; how he had been such a big fan and had used Frank's Olympia posing routine and bought trunks from his mail order company; and how my Mam-ma had made trunks for me off a pattern from his brand -- and on and on.

I'd like to spend some time just talkin' with him -- pick his brain some, I thought, feeling that I still needed to learn so much more about this sport. I still felt like a three-year-old who'd just done his first coloring-book drawing and had it hanging in an art gallery.

I gathered up my belongings and headed out to the lobby, to see if I couldn't run across Frank Zane. He was there, all right, sitting behind a card table autographing posters and photos he was selling. His wife, Christine -- whom I immediately recognized because she was also a celebrity from the magazines -- was sitting beside him, next to a man in a red sport coat, who was taking people's money for the pictures. This was exciting; I'd get to meet them both. The only complication was the line. At least fifty people were waiting to meet them too. I was going to have to think about this. I wanted to watch T.J..'s prejudging, so I poked my head inside the auditorium and asked a woman standing there what was going on. She said that they were just getting started on the over-forty men's contest, but that there seemed to be some unexplained delay -- maybe it was the stage lights, she speculated. I thanked her and went back out, knowing that I had probably at least another hour before T.J. would be up, and I was more interested in meeting a living legend than watching the old-timers; I got on the back of the line.

Wow, this is moving fast, I thought. After only twenty minutes or so I was up near the front. I pulled money out of my gym bag and tried to calculate how much I'd need before I got home, and I seemed to have enough for the poster (a magnificent shot of Zane doing a double biceps pose) if I ate really light all the way back to Solar Grove. Then I realized that I'd better formulate my questions; I was only two people back from the table.

"Hello, Mrs. Zane, Mr. Zane. How are you both doing?" I was all nervous smile when I got up to the table.

"Fine, thank you," they both answered at the same time.

"Uh, son, which one did you want?" the man in the red sport coat asked.

"Oh...uh, sorry, the poster please, sir." I handed him the money, in bills that I had worked from their former crumpled state into being flat, if still wrinkled. I just stood there smiling, frozen -- every thought had flown south for the winter.

"Who did you want this signed to?" Frank Zane asked me, looking up over the top of his wire-rim glasses. I could see the muscles of his forearms move as he rolled the pen between his fingers.

"Oh...uh...whoa...I...uh...um...just sign it to me...to...um, Bobby, please, Mr. Zane."

"There you are, Bobby." It was the first time a professional bodybuilder had said my name, and it was a two-time Mr. Olympia to boot -- yeeow. He stuck out his right hand, I looked at it for a couple of seconds, snapped out of it, and shook it.

"Thanks very much."

Christine smiled at me and said quietly, "Thank you."

I didn't move, but then the guy in the red coat said, "Sorry, son, but it's a long line."

"Oh. Sorry -- I...um...well...good luck in this, um, this year's Olympia, Mr. Zane."

"Thank you," he said, then turned his attention to the person behind me, who was nudging me to one side. I rolled up my poster, picked up my gym bag, and started to leave.

Before I got five feet away I turned around and said, "It was an honor, sir."

He nodded at me, smiled again, and went back to autographing pictures. I went over and sat on one of the velvet-covered benches that were scattered throughout the lobby and unrolled the poster to look at how it was signed. In curving, black ink it read, "To Bobby, Train Hard, Frank Zane, Mr. Olympia." I looked at it for several minutes, all the time thinking that he had overcome such tremendous odds to become a Mr. Olympia. He wasn't huge, like so many of the other pros. He competed well under two hundred pounds, in a field of much larger men. But everything was in its proper place, and all the muscles popped out like the features on a stone cliff, or some element of nature that looked beautiful and all one piece when you first looked at it, but separated into millions of intricate details once you really focused in on what you were seeing -- that was him. He was infinitely detailed, and that's what allowed him to win against bigger men. I carefully rolled up the poster again and went back into the auditorium.

I found a seat six or seven rows back from the stage and watched the start of the men's middleweight division. It was fascinating to see these guys under the lights; they all looked terrific, but I began to be able to separate out the ones who were going to do the best. Since this was the first contest I'd seen, I'd never had the chance to do that before, and to be honest, I'd never really considered what a thoughtful bodybuilding judge must have to go through to place the athletes in a just order.

Excerpted by permission of St. Martin's Press. Copyright © 1997 by Bob Paris.

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Table of Contents

Chapter 1: Edge of a Cliff
Chapter 2: Middle of Somewhere
Chapter 3: Rediscovering the Accidentally Discovered
Chapter 4: Even Muscles Have Memories
Chapter 5: Getting Out of the House a Bit
Chapter 6: Next to Death
Chapter 7: I Get Educated
Chapter 8: Southern Excursion
Chapter 9: Mr. Olympia Calls Me by Name
Chapter 10: A Week from Next Tuesday
Chapter 11: I Decide to Stay
Chapter 12: Grasshopper Turns Some Corners
Chapter 13: World by the Tail
Chapter 14: Second Thoughts
Chapter 15: First Comeback
Chapter 16: Mountains and Green Pastures
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Sort by: Showing all of 3 Customer Reviews
  • Anonymous

    Posted November 14, 2004

    Down-to-Earth & Honest

    Every career path has a story behind it, whether it's in such areas as medicine, teaching, entertainment, or even manufacturing. If you know someone in any particular field, they can honestly tell you the good, the bad, perhaps even the salary, the benefits, struggles, and the disadvantages of being in that profession. Bob Paris, in his book 'Gorilla Suit,' almost sits down with the reader and, without glamorizing, tells it how it is-the contests, the promotions, the glories, and the disappointments. It is the story 'behind-the-scenes.' He shares how he started bodybuilding early in his life, which makes readers recount their similarly related experiences. And although the author feels that in the end he might have climbed 'the wrong mountain,' his wisdom on weight training would make him the Bruce Lee of Bodybuilding; there are countless, even endless products and books on weight-training, but Bob Paris, through his past accomplishments and work, was able to narrow it down to a science, one that can be understood by everyone. In this book, there are no training tips, but before you start your pursuit for a healthier body, read 'Gorilla Suit' first.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted February 2, 2000

    Where's the beef!

    If you're a fan of Bob Paris (of which I am) then the reading of this book is a must. Though, as much as I love the beauty of a gorgeous man, I believe a few pictures would have made the point even more. Given the analogy that his body was like a product being sold as a box of cereal or a soft drink, then, as they say, a picture is worth a thousand words which would have made the story that much more. Yet, it was a good read.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted February 28, 2009

    No text was provided for this review.

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