There's a reason the 1980's is considered the "Golden Age" in bodybuilding history. The sport's champions have included such classic legends as Frank Zane, Chris Dickerson, Franco Columbu - and Samir Bannout. These competitors all had super aesthetic physiques and weren't so huge that younger bodybuilders couldn't aspire to follow in their footsteps.
Big Ramy is an amazing and deserving Mr. Olympia. But there aren't many young bodybuilders in gyms around the world who look at him and say, "One day I'm going to build a physique like that."
There was also a confluence of forces that arose during this period. Muscle & Fitness Magazine was so unexpectedly successful that it was dubbed "the publishing miracle of the 1980s" by the industry. Because Joe Weider was based in Los Angeles and signed most of the top bodybuilders, many of the pros either lived in the area or visited regularly. I and other Weider photographers always photographed them in Gold's gym or studio, which helped Gold's, Venice, earn its reputation as the "Mecca of bodybuilding."
Since photos in Muscle & Fitness and Flex were mostly taken at the Venice gym, this drew bodybuilders from around the world to train where they could rub shoulders with the champions of the day. In fact, there were so many visitors from abroad, especially in the summer, that I often joked that I felt I needed a visa to work out at the gym.
Among the other champions in the gym, one of the most prominent was Samir Bannout, known as "the Lion of Lebanon". Samir left his native Lebanon and emigrated to America, first moving to Detroit, Michigan and later to Santa Monica, California. He began competing at the amateur level, rose through the ranks and eventually achieved IFBB pro status by winning the light heavyweight division at the 1979 IFBB World Amateur Championships. Bannout placed 4th in the 1982 Mr. Olympia contest and returned to him the following year
Munich, Germany, took home the 1983 Olympic title. Bannout weighed 196 lbs. for winning the competition that made him the last Mr. Olympia to weigh under 200 pounds. His victory ended the so-called era of Mr. Olympia "aesthetics," which had originally begun with American Frank Zane's title win in 1977 and refocused on emphasizing bulk and size beginning with the American's victory Lee Haney in 1984 for the first time and after his inaugural win with 7 more consecutive wins for a record total of 8 titles.
This was the last period in pro bodybuilding before the arrival of the "muscle monsters," champions like Lee Haney, Dorian Yates, Ronnie Coleman, and subsequent, really big Mr. Olympia winners. Today Samir would be in the 212 lb class along with Zane, Lee Labrada, Franco Columbu, Rich Gaspari, Shawn Ray, Bob Paris and many other legends of the era. Today, even the "smaller" professional bodybuilders weigh over 212 pounds and have to compete on stage alongside bodies that weigh 270, 290, or even 300 pounds.
"Like any serious bodybuilder," says Samir, "I was working hard to build muscle when I first started training. But crowd for crowd's sake never interested me. Bodybuilding has always been about aesthetic quality and sculptural detail for me. We tend to admire statues of athletes from ancient Greece or the sculptures of Michelangelo, not just because they're muscular, but because all those muscles are so beautifully displayed.”
I have photographed Samir many times on stage and in the gym. Then one day in 1989 we decided to drive to nearby Marina Del Rey and do some outdoor shots in the great California beach sunlight. Samir wasn't in the best competitive shape, but he was handsome and you could certainly see the aesthetic qualities that made him a champion. I recently remembered this photo session and looked for the images in my huge photo library.
The color slide film used turned out to be Kodachrome 25 which produced very high quality and distinctive tones. The only problem is that these frames, when mounted on cardboard slide mounts, sometimes ended up with the edges slightly cut off. But still it is obvious that these pictures are worth sharing with Samir's many friends, fans and admirers. For one, they make it clear why the early 1980s were considered the golden age - and why.
As champions get bigger and heavier, there's a growing nostalgia for a time when aesthetics and quality were more important aspects of a champion physique, and sheer bulk just wasn't that big of a factor.
Story of Samir Bannout's Bodybuilding Competition
2011 IFBB Pro World Masters Bodybuilding 11th Place
· 1996 Master Olympia 6th Place
· 1994 Mr. Olympia 19
· 1994 Spanish Grand Prix 12th place
1994 Italian Grand Prix 12th
· 1994 Grand Prix of Germany 13th
· 1994 British Grand Prix, 14th place
· 1993 San Jose Pro Invitational 10th Place
1993 Ironman Pro Invitational, 13th place
1993 Arnold Schwarzenegger Classic 13
· 1992 Mr. Olympia 16
· 1992 Grand Prix of Germany 11
· 1992 Arnold Schwarzenegger classic N/A
· 1991 Mr. Olympia 16
· 1990 NABBA World Championships Professional 2nd Place
1990 Pittsburgh Pro Invitational 1st (Winner)
· 1990 Mr. Olympia 8th place
1990 Houston Pro Invitational runner-up
· 1990 Italian Grand Prix 6th place
· 1990 Grand Prix Finland 5th place
· 1990 British Grand Prix 6th place
· 1990 Arnold Schwarzenegger Classic 4th place
1989 Mr Olympia 9th
· 1989 Swedish Grand Prix 3rd place
Spanish Grand Prix 1989 (2nd) 5th
· 1989 Spanish Grand Prix 5th place
1989 Dutch Grand Prix 5th place
· 1989 Grand Prix of Germany 5th place
· 1989 French Grand Prix 8th place
· 1989 Grand Prix Finland 6th place
· 1989 Arnold Schwarzenegger Classic 4th place
· 1988 Italian Grand Prix 9th place
· 1988 British Grand Prix 10th place
1986 WABBA World Championship 1st
1985 WABBA World Championship 1st
· 1984 World Grand Prix 5th place
· 1984 Mr. Olympia 6th place
Fifth in the 1984 Canada Pro Cup
· 1983 Mr. Olympia 1st place
· 1982 Mr. Olympia 4th place
· 1982 Swedish Grand Prix 2nd place
· 1981 Mr. Olympia 9th place
· 1981 Night of Champions 10
· 1981 New England Grand Prix 6th place
1981 California Grand Prix, 7th place
1980 Pittsburgh Pro Invitational N/A
· 1980 Mr. Olympia 15
· 1980 Night of Champions 10
· 1980 Pennsylvania Grand Prix 7th place
1980 California Grand Prix 4th place
· 1979 World Amateur Championship, 1st Light Heavyweight
1979 Canada Pro Cup, N/A
· 1979 world best, 1st amateur
· 1978 Mr. International, 2nd middleweight
· 1977 Mr. International, 2nd middleweight
1976 Mr. Universe, middleweight 12th
1974 Mr. Universe, Middle Class 7th (Youngest contestant)