Lee Haney: The First of the Muscle Monsters

I remember standing outside Gold's Gym in Venice in the early 1980s and listening to a young bodybuilder complain that there were no more "big boys" in the sport. By this time Arnold had retired and top contenders included Samir Bannout, Chris Dickerson and Frank Zane. Excellent bodybuilders, but not very tall. But little did I or this young bodybuilder know that a sea change was about to take place in physique competition, heralded by the arrival of the massive and aesthetic Lee Haney.

Lee Haney had mastodon muscles but no mastodon bones, making for great form and aesthetics. Bill Dobbins

I run into massively mesomorphic bodies all the time, bodies that look like they were designed for linemen in the NFL. Lee Haney doesn't have that kind of body. The story I heard was that he got into bodybuilding because he broke his leg twice playing high school football. That would indicate that Lee has mastodon muscles but no mastodon bones. And that, of course, is key to its outstanding aesthetics. With smaller bones and joints, you can get more shapely, tapered muscles. Otherwise, you'll end up with thick, massive, but blockier muscles. Look at photos of Lee and see how tiny his wrists are. I always noticed that with Arnold. Huge forearms tapering to surprisingly small wrists.

At 300 pounds plus Mr. Olympia contenders, Lee Haney doesn't appear to be as massive. But when he won the NPC Nationals in 1982, he actually seemed like a very big guy. He was the first of a series of future massive competitors like Dorian Yates, Ronnie Coleman, and Jay Cutler - eventually leading to Big Ramy, who is so massive he looks like he could be a member of another species.

Lee Haney Medal. Lee Haney won eight Mr. Olympia titles - and was at his best in the year he retired. Courtesy of Weider Health and Fitness / M+F Magazine

Bodybuilder Lee Haney performs leg curls at the gymLee Haney was the first of the "mass monsters" in modern professional bodybuilding. Bill Dobbins

In the '80s, the Nationals Champion competed in the IFBB Mr. Universe. I remember speaking to Lee on the flight to Belgium for the Universe and he told me he had never been to Europe before. "You're not really going to Europe now," I told him. "You're just going to another competition. An airport, a hotel, a theater. The same you are already used to. Focus on that and enjoy a trip to Europe later after winning the competition.”

YATES vs. HANEY, 1991Dorian Yates and Lee Haney in 1991 - the end of one era, the beginning of the next. Bill Dobbins

Needless to say, Lee won the universe, winning eight Mr. Olympia events. The last was in Florida in 1991. The question then was whether "newcomer" Dorian Yates would beat the champion and become the new Mr. Olympia. I remember being backstage when Dorian came in to pump up. Of course he was very impressive. And then Lee came in and took off his shirt. Photographers and journalists watching immediately recognized that second place would be up for grabs. Lee was one of those bodybuilders, along with others like Lee Labrada, who was at his best the year he retired.

I've had the opportunity to photograph Lee Haney many times, on stage, in the gym and in the studio. He was always an absolute gentleman, easy to deal with. Joe Weider twice sent me to Atlanta to photograph Lee at his gyms. The original had no air conditioning. You'd think taking photos in vember wouldn't be a problem. But I'm from very dry Los Angeles and Atlanta was extremely muggy so while it wasn't super hot I ended up with a collection of Lee Haney t shirts as I kept getting replacements going through the ones that I was sweating.

Lee Haney does bicep curls on a preacher bar at the gymBill Dobbins

Lee Haney's next gym shoot took place in his newer gym, all chrome and air conditioned. Back then, it was common for photographers to spray subjects with water to mimic sweat. I sprayed Lee several times but it was very chilly in the gym at the time and he found it uncomfortable. So he finally said to me in his soft but very distinct Southern tone, "Bill, please stop splashing me with water...."

That was about as "difficult" as Lee Haney could be. A super nice guy, everyone would agree.

Lee Haney in conversation with former wife Olympia Lenda MurrayLots of Olympic titles here: Lee Haney and Lenda Murray, both 8X winners. Bill Dobbins

bodybuilding title

  • 1991 Mr. Olympia, 1st
  • 1990 Mr. Olympia, 1st
  • 1989 Mr. Olympia, 1st
  • 1988 Mr. Olympia, 1st
  • 1987 Grand Prix of Germany (II), 1st place
  • 1987 Mr. Olympia, 1st
  • 1986 Mr. Olympia, 1st
  • 1985 Mr. Olympia, 1st
  • 1984 Mr. Olympia, 1st
  • 1983 World Pro Championships, 3rd place
  • 1983 Mr. Olympia, 3rd place
  • 1983 Night of Champions, Jan
  • 1983 Swiss Grand Prix, 3rd place
  • 1983 Swedish Grand Prix, 2nd place
  • 1983 Las Vegas Grand Prix, 1st place
  • 1983 British Grand Prix, 2nd place
  • 1982 World Amateur Heavyweight Championships, 1st place
  • 1982 Nationals Heavyweight & Overall, 1st
  • 1982 Junior Nationals Heavyweight & Overall, 1st
  • 1979 Teen Mr America Tall, 1
  • 1979 Teenage America 1



Lee Haney Photoshoot Photo selection by photographer Bill DobbinsBill DobbinsBodybuilder Lee Haney picked at photo shootBill Dobbins

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