Goodbye, Johnny

Goodbye, Johnny

Peter McGough

Johnny Fuller, who competed extensively in the ’70s and ’80s, died on January 20 in Bournemouth, England, after a long battle with leukemia. He was 62.

Born in the Caribbean, but raised in England, Johnny was renowned for his vascularity and hardness. He gained his pro card by winning the light-heavyweight division at the 1980 IFBB World Amateur Championships and went on to compete in four Mr. Olympia contests, where his best showings were eighth in 1981 and 1983. In his last contest, the 1987 World Pro Championships, he placed 13th.

I got to know Johnny very well in the ’80s when he came back to England (in 1983) after living in the States for a while. Johnny’s rugged appearance could give the wrong impression of him, but he really was personable and easygoing.

Despite carrying oodles of muscle, he was very flexible and very fit. Before entering bodybuilding, he boxed professionally and, to my knowledge, ran in at least one marathon.

His training was wild–70 sets or so per bodypart, sometimes at a fast pace–and his dietary habits were even wilder. He would put water and raw liver into a blender, mix it up and then wake at three in the morning to drink it. That’s something they don’t tell you to do at Jenny Craig.

He was a great believer in organ meats. At one point, he lived in Swindon (in western England) and in 1986, my wife, Anne Byron, photographer Geoff Collins and I went to his house for a meal after a photo session. In fact, the session was with Johnny and his then-girlfriend, British bodybuilder Della Shahabi–they were together for about three years.

Johnny insisted on making dinner for us–very lightly cooked ox heart and some other almost-raw organ meats. Geoff and I struggled to gulp it down, but Anne couldn’t face it and said she was a vegetarian–which she wasn’t. For a couple of years after that, every time we met Johnny socially and went to eat, Anne had to order “vegetarian.”

Johnny was an expert on nutrition, and he would go to a local chemist, order separate amino acids and make them into his own combination. When he first met young Dorian Yates in 1985 and they spoke about nutrition, Johnny told me, “That kid knows more about nutrition than somebody who’s only been bodybuilding a couple of years should know. I think he must’ve been living in Venice Beach for a few years picking up all the info, and then comes back here and tells everybody he’s a novice.” I printed that in a British mag and it started a rumor that many seemed to believe.

In those days of the early ’80s, nobody got harder than Johnny–he was like rock. I used to stage seminars in Nottingham for visiting superstars, in which we’d also get British amateurs to come along and pose. The events were for charity. In 1986, new sensation Rich Gaspari headed one of the seminars. He had seemingly rewritten the book on hardness and vascularity–or so we thought.

Six weeks before the event, Johnny called and asked if he could pose. On the night, he turned up rock hard, in contest shape, and jumped onstage next to Gaspari, who was in offseason shape. Johnny had prepared for that six weeks like it was the Olympia just so he could show the “young whippersnapper” what vascularity and hardness were all about.

In 1987, we organized an event with Johnny as the guest star. Forty-eight hours before the show, word spread vigorously around the bodybuilding community–due to nefarious activity by some (a tale too long to go into here)–that it had been cancelled. Johnny showed up, but hardly anyone else did, yet he insisted on posing and doing a seminar for the few who came–and he refused to be paid.

Johnny was a guru before the term became fashionable. He always made a point of helping out young competitors with his nutrition and training knowledge, and there was no charge. I last saw him in 1994. In later years, it seems, Johnny became very spiritual and almost vocational in helping out others who needed it.

Johnny Fuller was a good and kind man. Rest in peace, Johnny.

By Peter McGough


COPYRIGHT 2006 Weider Publications

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