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70 Is the New 40

70 Is the New 40

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The first out gay man to win the Mr. America title, in 1973, Jim Morris is going stronger than ever, working as a personal trainer at Legacy Gym in West L.A. and posing, magnificently, for our photo portfolio "The Naked Truth" -- at age 73! Truly raising the bar on the concept of aging gracefully, Jim talks frankly about gays and self-perception, his vegan diet, steroids, and his wild night with Elton John, John Lennon, and Divine.

Congratulations on maintaining your Mr. America physique into your 70s -- it's truly inspirational and proof that bodybuilding is a pathway to living long and living well. How have you managed to stay motivated all this time? Staying motivated is not a problem because once I realized I could be as healthy as I was willing to work for, I could never do otherwise. All the functions of day-to-day living are the same functions that determine the aging process, all of which are under our control. Aging and living are one and the same process; therefore all of the processes of living, which we control, are controlling how we age. So staying motivated for my lifestyle not only is not hard, I cannot do otherwise. Bodybuilding serves me on many levels. One is as a refuge from life's problems. I tend to beat myself up over things, and the focus and dedication of training for some goal always pulls me through the resulting depression. It also allows me to express my creativity from which I get the most pleasure of anything. I have never been good at training as maintenance. So I can relate to my clients in that respect. There are long periods of no training, but something always comes along to get me fired up again. What allows me to sustain a degree of fitness during these lax periods is my lifestyle, which is relatively stress-free, and the vegan diet, which includes no processed or refined foods.? ?

From left: Jim Fraracci, Zabo Koszewski, Chet Yorton, Arnold Schwarzenegger, Joe Gold. "There was a lot of good-natured, although very gay, fooling around at the original Gold's," Morris says of this shot he took in 1969. "Here Arnold plants a kiss on the forehead of Chet as Zabo cops a feel. Note that Chet is holding Arnold around the waist." This creation last year was the result of my not knowing of anyone in their 70s who I felt could match what I knew I was capable of. Being the first to achieve a heretofore unseen level of development was an attraction and challenge I could not resist. Setting a standard also appealed to me. When people say I look so good for my age, my response is, "I don't think so. I think this is what the 70s should look like." I think competing and status are part of being human, and as a child I was not coordinated and never participated in sports, and I find through bodybuilding I am able to satisfy my need to compete and establish my status with other males on my terms. Bodybuilding satisfies my need to compete for sex and my need to be admired.

How do you deal with the chronic injuries that seem to plague so many bodybuilders? The body has a remarkable ability to heal itself if given the right materials (nutrients) and care (treatment). My joints have from time to time flared up from overuse, but I have learned to allow them time between exertions to heal. Now I do not have any pain or even discomfort in any of my joints or muscles, which is one of the major reasons I am able to train hard enough to attain my current condition. I attribute it mostly to my eating habits. When I dropped processed and refined foods, all of what remained of my physical and health problems went away completely. Most had already disappeared when I became vegan.

Tell me a little about your exercise regimen now -- it must differ drastically from when you were competing. Or does it? There are three main differences. I use a fraction of the poundage I used to use, but that is as much because my goal is different now as anything else. Heavy poundage is necessary to increase muscle size, which is no longer my goal and has not been in decades. Once I reached the maximum muscle mass for my frame, I backed off on the poundage. After that it has been a matter of refining and detailing. I have developed a routine of "flexing," which I do at home and devote as much time to as the actual gym workout. It is basically the old Charles Atlas "Dynamic Tension" method with a twist, which more than makes up for the lower poundages I use in the gym. I can get as intense a pump and break a sweat with this workout. Third, I am no longer rigid about my workouts; namely, I no longer absolutely must do certain exercises on certain days with a definite number of sets and reps. I have learned to listen to my body and I do whatever I "feel" like at the moment. It can range from not working out at all to going in twice a day depending on my mood. It is very loose now.

In all fairness, do you think you could have won the Mr. America title had you been a vegan back in the '70s? I thought building muscle required protein -- and lots of it. Not only would I have won, I think I would have been spectacular. I won the Mr. America with the largest winning point margin in the history of the contest (30 points, and the record still stands), and I know the margin would have been even larger had I been a vegan. What I have always had going for me is symmetry. It would have emphasized those lines even more by eliminating the "bloat" that comes from eating animal products, especially dairy. Vegetable protein is infinitely better quality protein for humans and is available in more than sufficient quantities in vegetables.

At his heaviest weight ever: 233 pounds

Morris's mother congratulating him onstage at the 1973 Mr. America contest

I know building and maintaining muscle takes testosterone, hence the explosion of hormone replacement therapy among the boomer generation. Do you follow such a program? The only therapy for men I am aware of is steroids. I started regular use after the 1996 Masters Olympia. Prior to the Masters I had not used them for 17 years and was experiencing what I considered the "normal" decline of aging as I went from age 44 to 61. When I started training for the contest and resumed my steroid regimen, those aging symptoms cleared up. I felt wonderful. After the contest I continued on very low dosages and the feeling continued, so I have kept it up. Explosion is right. I think the genie is out of the closet and usage will become commonplace in very short order. Just the fact that there is so much interest is an indication. Being in my 70s qualifies me for prescription supplemental testosterone, so I take 100 milligrams per week of cypionate and 100 of nandrolone decanoate. The body is always in a state of movement. It is either improving or declining. It never stands still. I believe that to whatever extent we can promote the state of growth we are slowing the aging process.

Have you noticed any lasting effects on your overall health from your earlier steroid use? I have no way of knowing what of my current condition I can attribute to my previous use in the '60s and '70s. My sense is that is positive.

You claim to be the only out gay man to ever win the AAU Mr. America title. Are you saying there were closeted gay men who won the title or simply that no other gay men reached that pinnacle in its 60-year history? I know of at least one closeted winner and I suspect a couple of others. In response to this interview I called him and we discussed it for the first time ever. Just the fact that we had never had occasion to discuss it says to me it just wasn't an issue. He said although he did not feel the public at large knew, he was quite sure that the judges and officials in the game knew. He agreed that he too had not experienced any problems due to his sexuality. He feels he was judged fairly on his body. He also feels that an out gay competitor would not have any problem whatsoever today.

When you won the title of Mr. America in 1973, few gay men could even visualize themselves pumping iron in a gym alongside other bodybuilders. Now the buffest guys on the street seem to be gay. How do you think this change came about? I think it is part of what I have seen as the maturation of gay men -- an ongoing process of striving and achieving and moving toward a goal of who and what we truly are and not what we were labeled and perceived to be by society and the church. In 1955, when I turned 20, I was living in New York and working in lower Manhattan, so I spent a lot of time in Greenwich Village. The prevailing attitude about being gay was negative among both straights and gays. In the '60s the civil rights, women's rights, and gay rights movements, culminating in 1969 with Stonewall, combined to cause a tremendous reassessment of our own self-perception and what we were going to stand for and who we were going to be. In the '70s we literally took responsibility for our own condition and took things into our own hands as a group. Part of that was to move away from the notion that we are naturally feminine and could not look masculine or be muscular like straight men. I received letters telling me how my Mr. America win in 1973 caused them to change how they thought of gays and themselves. The '80s caused us to focus on health issues as never before. The incorporation of West Hollywood caused a noticeable change in the psyche of all in my circle. It was almost as though we had a homeland. It became all right to stick out your pecs and pull back your delts because now you had a reason to -- plus it got you laid more.

Despite the fact that so many gay men participate in bodybuilding today, though, does it seem that disproportionately few of them ever take it to the competitive level? I think what attracts us to bodybuilding is the aesthetic character of it. Plus, I don't think we want to look like the current crop of competitors. The poster for the Iron Man Pro show was on the wall at World Gym in the Marina last year. Without my glasses the only word I could read from the far wall of the gym was "MONSTERS." It is all about size. Bigger is always better. I cannot see any gay sensibility finding that look appealing enough to go through what it must take to get there. Plus, we are nowhere near as exhibitionistic as straights. Photographer Jim French once told me 86% of his models have been straight. Straight guys are much more "open" about themselves in locker rooms than gays. At Black's Beach the straights must outnumber the gays 100 to 1. A straight guy will have no problem coming up to me and posing for me. A gay guy never would. ?

An art shot of Morris by Lon of New York

Morris played a captain of the U.S. gymnastics team in the last Mae West movie, Sextette. In this scene he is introducing the team mascot to Miss Marlowe Manners.

In the course of your life, you've held down a variety of jobs, from LAPD officer, to personal bodyguard for Elton John, to gym owner. Did your sexual orientation have anything to do with your leaving the LAPD? It had everything to do with my joining the LAPD. My sexual orientation greatly influenced my choice of jobs. I thrive in all-male situations. As for why I left the LAPD, I'll tell you a couple of things that happened, and you can draw your own conclusions. I was living in New York when the LAPD notified me that I had passed all of the tests I had taken while here on vacation. At their suggestion I rented a garage apartment in Altadena from a black officer. On at least two occasions I am absolutely positive my place was searched. At the academy I was constantly reprimanded for not being aggressive enough. Though in P.E., whenever my partner and I competed as a team against the other teams, we usually won. The final phase of the academy was to go out in a car with a veteran officer. At the end of each shift the other officers would have averaged around 15 citations or FI's (field inspections), and I would have five on a good night. But I think the final straw for them was at the end of the academy training. A few days before graduation I brought a drop-dead gorgeous white 20-year-old (I was 34) I had met at Gold's to the family and friends social, where we got to show them around the academy. The official reason they put in my records for my dismissal was "lack of aggression."

The 1974 tour was Elton's first big American tour and began a 15-year relationship.

What's the most outrageous thing that happened during the years you were in Mr. John's employ? The last night of the 1975 tour was at Madison Square Garden in New York. We were staying at the Sherry Netherland, and John Lennon was across the street at the Plaza. Divine and Liz Taylor were also at the Sherry. It had been two weeks of 24/7 partying. EJ always did a costume change for the encore. This night it was a Bob Mackie creation with a 12-foot snow-white cape trimmed with white marabou feathers. To keep the cape from dragging on the floor and getting dirty, EJ suggested I carry him out on my shoulders and stand him up on the piano. When I stripped down to my bugle-beaded posing strap (also from the Mackie studio), everyone was shocked. Elton and Lennon had been in the studio that week recording "Lucy in the Sky With Diamonds." Madison Square Garden has a wooden floor, and the 20,000-plus crowd had been roused to insanity at the end of the regular show. For the first time I thought a venue was in imminent danger of collapse. I stood EJ on the piano and hit a few poses, which raised the decibel level beyond what I believed possible. As soon as I left the stage Lennon walked on, and the whole place totally lost it. The spotlights turned to a trapeze hanging in the center of the ceiling holding Divine as "Lucy" in a silver-sequined sheath, dripping with the biggest rhinestones ever. They lowered her to the stage and did a 10-minute set of "Lucy." After the concert we went to one of the clubs and ran into Bianca. She said Mick was at their apartment at the St. James, which was only a couple of blocks north of the Sherry on Fifth Avenue. Elton, Lennon, and I left the club and went to the St. James around 1 a.m. Mick had been sleeping, but he welcomed us, and we spent the rest of the night drinking wine and singing Little Richard, Chuck Berry, Fats Domino, and other songs from that era. Around 7 a.m. the coke was wearing off and the wine was having its effect, so we left and walked down Fifth Avenue to our hotels. Shockingly, no one bothered us. Oh, what a night.

Jim Morris Gym was the gym in West Hollywood during the '80s, and as a member of your gym, that's when I first realized you're gay. However, I didn't know you ran the gym with your life partner of 20 years, Jimmy Brown. Tell me about him. Jimmy was actually the driving force behind the creation of the gym. After winning the Mr. A, I tried for five years to raise money to open a gym, but the attitude was "Gays will not go to a serious gym in any numbers that would sustain a viable business." Jimmy finally withdrew his savings and pension and borrowed from his parents. He found the building and plowed through all the paperwork the banks and city needed to get things going.

In Hawaii with Jimmy Brown, his life partner of 20 years I opened the gym at 6 a.m. and worked until 2 p.m. Jimmy came in at 2 and closed at 10 p.m. He said the after-work crowd was like having his own party every night with the hottest guys in town. He loved people and partying, and the gym was his joy. I met Jimmy in December 1973 at a Christmas party in West Hollywood. Jimmy was a party animal and he genuinely liked people. I had just won the Mr. America a few months prior and came to the party with a model I was dating. The model told me he was 18. I was 37. Jimmy was 30, living in San Francisco, and working for HUD as an investigator of discrimination in housing. Jimmy was wearing suede cowboy pants that night, a leather vest, and a huge turquoise-and-coral squash blossom necklace, with hair down his back. No shirt. He was a knockout. He came over and sat on the couch to my left, as my date was on my right, and started talking. He never let my date get in another word all night. A few months after meeting Jimmy I left for my first ever EJ tour. In the middle of the tour we stopped for a two-week break in Maui. Jimmy took his vacation and joined me there. I proposed, and it became our honeymoon. Jimmy passed away from AIDS in 1992.

Have you ever been tempted to open another gym? The gym was one of the most cherished times of my life and it could only have happened at that time of my life and West Hollywood's life. So many things came together to create a very special place that I could never repeat.

Are you partnered now? No. But I'm counting on this article to change that.?

Learn more about Jim Morris's past and present accomplishments at his website, gymmorris.com. Jim can be reached at jimmorris@gymmorris.com.

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