Bob Paris is best known as a former professional bodybuilder who earned the title of Mr. Universe in 1983.
Despite being an openly gay man, his sexual orientation was not known by segments of the general population. Paris had been in a high-profile relationship with model and bodybuilder Rod Jackson and, in 1989, the two got married in a commitment ceremony. Paris' coming-out story in the media, appeared in Iron Man magazine in 1989 and it stirred up controversy.
Now retired from bodybuilding, Paris lives a more low-key life in Canada with Brian LeFurgey, his spouse of 11 years. Windy City Times talked with Paris about coming out, life after bodybuilding and marital bliss.
Windy City Times: How did you get into bodybuilding?
Bob Paris: I discovered weight-training almost by accident. I found an old universal weight machine in the basketball gym of my high school and I started playing around with it and it just kind of made sense. I was in a kind of nihilistic time period in my life when I was 17 and I was in general an artistI was a theater actor, a writer and the debate-team guy, but also a jock. I needed someway to build myself up for football and I kind of started weight training. After that I accidentally discovered the sport of bodybuilding which I never knew existed. I grew up in a small town in southern Indiana and there were no gyms in the town in those days.
WCT: Tell me about coming out in the media in 1989.
Bob Paris: It was difficult in the '80s. I had tried to come out in the media several times in the years leading up to it and in those days reporter's thought that they were actually protecting celebrities by not doing that story. I had come out in other articles where reporter's would literally cut that part of the article out by the time it went to print. So it wasn't until 1989 that I actually found a friendly venue that I knew would handle the information right because they were friends. I did an interview in Iron Man magazine and they said what everyone around me already knew. I thought I was going to come out and go back to work but the circumstances of the timehistory and all those thingsthey kind of pulled me along a very different road.
WCT: You recently appeared on Oprah: Where Are They Now? And you talked about getting death threats.
Bob Paris: I think that I understood that when I came out in the media that there would be a certain vulnerability about that, and I think you have to come to a level of peace that there could be vile ramifications for the actions. At the same time, as a lot of death threats came in, it's important to add that at the time, I probably got 20,000 or 30,000 positive fan letters and things of support from the heartland and all over the world.
WCT: And your business suffered?
Bob Paris: I watched as 80 percent of my business just vanishedbookings and endorsementsthings just vanished within months. There was no set plan about how to do this, and it's not like today where there is a cottage industry dedicated to celebrities coming out in the media. Back then you were making it up as you go.
WCT: You have written nine books thus far. Is writing still a passion of yours?
Bob Paris: I broke into publishing by writing fitness books and slowly transitioning to writing narrative memoir essays. I decided about 10 years ago to completely leave the fitness business. At first I was writing fitness books to break into publishing and also because I lost so much of my business, that this seemed like the natural thing to do because I had to pay the bills.
WCT: Where has your writing taken you?
Bob Paris: I never set out to become a fitness guru so I sat down with my husband Brian [LeFurgey] and we talked about this and we made this real decision that I could make a complete break. Now I focus completely on fiction and I am also a screenwriter.
WCT: This year you are celebrating 11 years of marriage to Brian.
Bob Paris: We've been together for 17 years and we married in 2003, right after [the Canadian province] British Columbia changed the marriage laws. I fell in love with a Canadian and living in the United States, the odious Defense of Marriage Act ( DOMA ) very flagrantly prevented me from sponsoring Brian for immigration.
He has a fairly complex cancer history and, in 2003, he was going through a cancer battle. After we married we decided for him to return home and for me to immigrate to Canada. Where the U.S. blatantly prohibited me from sponsoring my spouse for immigration, Canada welcomed me with open arms and it has been a really wonderful experience.
Find out more about Paris at www.bobparis.com and www.facebook.com/official.bob.paris .