Bodybuilder. Actor. Star. These are just 3 of the words to describe the phenomenon that is Lou Ferrigno. He’s one of the biggest action stars we’ve ever had and his journey and his life’s achievements are a great inspiration to us all.
But, Lou Ferrigno’s life journey hasn’t been without its struggles. He had a speech impediment – which would normally spell ‘death’ for any aspiring actor. He had to find a way to reach the high ranks of the bodybuilding industry – especially when he came across stars such as Arnold Schwarznegger.
And yet he persisted. Yet, he managed to carve out a successful career for himself and he’s still just as busy as ever. If you’re looking for motivation to pursue your own dreams, you’ll find it in his life.
Join FactsVerse to learn about Lou Ferrigno’s life and career, and the sad origin of his speech impediment…
LOU FERRIGNO’S EARLY LIFE AND CAREER
Louis Jude Ferrigno was born on November 9, 1951, in Brooklyn, New York.
His father was a police lieutenant, and his mother was a homemaker. As a young boy, he suffered from a speech impediment and the sad origin only became known later.
For some reason, he began experiencing very serious ear infections at a young age. This eventually caused him to lose much of his hearing and this not only made it harder for him to hear but also to speak.
This speech impediment and his hearing disability made him the target of bullies for much of his childhood. This caused young Lou to become rather withdrawn as he would get pushed around by the other students at school.
He was determined to fight back. In fact, this incessant bullying inspired him to become stronger and to learn how to fight so that he would never be bullied again. He began lifting weights at the age of 13 and he never stopped after that.
One of his early heroes was Steeve Reeves who was the star of the Hercules and he wanted to emulate him by becoming a bodybuilding star. Coming from a humble background, Lou couldn’t afford weights so he would make them on his own. He attached two pails to a broomstick and filled them with cement and this would become the way he worked out!
He eventually studied at Brooklyn Technical High School and studied metal working.
As he entered his late teens, he was becoming more and more serious about bodybuilding and decided to enter competitions. Upon graduating from high school and starting his bodybuilding career, his life would change.
LOU FERRIGNO’S BODYBUILDING CAREER
In 1969, when Lou Ferrigno graduated from high school he won his first bodybuilding title – as Mr. America in the 1969 IFBB championship.
4 years later, he won the Mr. Universe title in the same competition. He then moved to Colombus, Ohio to train even more. It was there where he met Arnold Schwarznegger and the two of them would train together but also became rivals.
In the mid-1970s, he trained for the Mr. Olympia competition and was featured in the now classic documentary Pumping Iron – in which he and Schwarznegger competed against each other to win the championship. While he didn’t win – this was the film that brought him to greater attention in the mainstream and the one that made him a star.
He continued to participate in bodybuilding and strongman events for much of his life and would win many competitions. Often, the money wasn’t sufficient at such competitions so he would take on odd jobs including working as a worker at a sheet metal factory. He even played in the Canadian Football League for a brief period.
His final competition was the 1994 Masters Olympia and he was once again featured in a popular documentary about bodybuilding. The film was called Stand Tall and in this film – he was the protagonist. It focused on his childhood, his hearing and speech impediment, and his journey to becoming a successful bodybuilder.
LOU FERRIGNO’S ACTING CAREER
Lou Ferrigno knew that bodybuilding would not last forever and he would soon have to find other avenues to make a living. As his profile grew and he became more famous, it was clear that show business was calling his name. Despite his hearing and speech impediments, he had a tremendous presence in public and this meant that he was destined to becoming a star.
Even while he was pursuing his career as a bodybuilder, he began looking for other options.
And it seemed that the natural transition was to become an actor – especially since he loved action films and wanted to emulate his idol Steve Reeves. In 1977, he was cast in the role of a lifetime as The Incredible Hulk in the series of the same name.
The show was a huge hit and made Lou Ferrigno a huge star. While many actors have taken on the role of the Hulk, it’s clear that Lou Ferrigno’s portrayal remains the most popular and remains an inspiration for all future “Hulks” – except for perhaps the “She-Hulk” but we won’t get into that!
The Incredible Hulk is one of the most popular American TV shows of all time and Lou Ferrigno became an even bigger star from the show. He loved his experience on the show and credits his success and his transition to acting from this show.
He played the role of The Incredible Hulk from 1977 to 1982. In 1983, he got to follow in Steeve Reeve’s footsteps when he was cast as Hercules in the film of the same name.
This was an Italian-American production about the Greek god and thanks to Lou Ferrigno’s insistence it became a family-friendly film, though it was originally going to be filled with hardcore violence and sex – a common aspect of Italian action films of the era.
The film was a huge hit and is perhaps one of Lou Ferrigno’s best known films.
In 1983, Lou Ferrigno took on a dramatic role as John Six in the short-lived drama series Trauma Center. This was a great diversion from the action roles he was used to and though the show didn’t last long it showed the tremendous range he had as an actor.
The same year, he appeared in the Italian film The Seven Magnificent Gladiators. He played the leader of gladiators who tries to save an entire village from an evil bandit. Once again, this was a huge hit and Lou Ferrigno became well known in both the USA and Italy.
He continued to land guest roles in TV shows following these films. He appeared in shows such as The New Mike Hammer, The Fall Guy, and Night Court. In 1985, he appeared as Hercules again in the film The Adventures of Hercules.
He also appeared in a TV movie in which he reprised his most famous role – as The Incredible Hulk. In 1988, he appeared in the film Desert Warrior. This was an action-sci-fi film in which he played the leader of one civilization trying to fight against another for survivor.
The following year, he tried his hand in comedy and joined the cast of All’s Fair. The film became a huge hit and this is arguably one of his best films. He starred alongside great actors such as Sally Kellerman, George Segal, Robert Carradine, and John Kapelos.
He made a return to fantasy epics the same year when he starred as Sinbad in Sinbad of the Seven Seas. The same year he also starred in one of his biggest films of all time – Cage. In this film, he played a former war veteran trying to adjust to civilian life. The film was a mix of action and drama and once again showed Lou’s incredible range.
The same year he starred in yet another hit film called Liberty and Bash. In this film, he worked alongside a great ensemble of actors – in a film that followed former war veterans helping troubled youths, while one of them got involved in the drug trade.
Since then, Lou Ferrigno has continued to work steadily in film and television. He reprised his role yet again as The Incredible Hulk in the animated series of the show released in the 1990s.
He was so famous that he even made cameo appearances as himself in The King of Queens. He also appeared as himself again in the 2017 TV series Con Man.
In the 2010s, he appeared in the films Instant Death, Enter the Fire, Purge of the Kingdoms, Ring Ring, Surge of the Dawn, and Cross: Rise of the Villains. Recently, he’s most known as Lenny Montana in the TV mini-series The Offer – which has once again made him a star and has introduced him to a new legion of fans.
The Offer is a mini-series that follows the making of The Godfather and Lou Ferrigno portrays the famous actor who played the role of Luca Brasi. Once again, he shows that he also has incredible range as an actor and is more than an action star.
He’s currently filming for the lead role in an upcoming horror film called The Hermit.
WHAT LOU FERRIGNO IS UP TO TODAY
We can only expect more great things from Lou Ferrigno. He’s now in his seventies and is still working just as hard as ever.
He’s served as an inspiration as an actor and bodybuilder and we expect more and more new legions of fans to discover his work and be inspired by him.
He was first married to Susan Groff from 1978 to 1979. He has been married to Carla since 1980 and has 3 children with her. His son Brent was featured in the short reality series The Incredible Ferrigno’s, while his daughter Shanna is a producer and actress. His son, Lou Jr. is also an accomplished actor in his own right.
So, now let’s hear from you:
Are you a fan of Lou Ferrigno? Did you know about the sad origin of his speech impediment?
And now, here’s what we want to know from you:
Do you think that his career is still known and appreciated today?
Or has he been largely overshadowed by some of today’s action stars?