Muscle Sport Magazine

How I Will Remember Shawn Rhoden

This has been a very disturbing and sad year in the bodybuilding community and it continued with the recent passing of Shawn Rhoden at 46 from an apparent heart attack. At the time of this writing, more details were still not available regarding the cause of death. But this column is not about how the 2018 Mr. Olympia died, but rather how this writer will remember him.


First and foremost, my heart goes out to his family and others who were close to him; no words can ease their pain nor should they. Perhaps with the passage of time, they will be able to accept this great loss and use Rhoden’s memory as a strength and appreciation of how many people he made a positive impact on worldwide, myself being one of them.



I initially met Rhoden at the 2011 “Meet the Olympians” event at The Orleans in Las Vegas, Nevada. He was only two years removed from earning his IFBB pro card after a seven-year absence from not only the bodybuilding stage, but the gym, as well. He failed to place at his first pro show (the 2010 Europa SuperShow), but finished third at the same event a year later and qualified for the Olympia. (This was prior to the present Olympia qualifications points system was in place.) We did a quick interview and one of the questions posed to him was about him breaking into the top 10 in his maiden Olympia.


“That would be a great placing,” he said with that humble smile he became known for,”first time on (this) stage (and) to crack into the top-10. that would be awesome. So if all the cards fall into the right place and if everything comes together, we’ll see what happens.”



Rhoden eventually fell just short of that, but he put himself on the map that night by placing 11th. He competed in eight shows in 2012, winning four (Arnold Classic Europe, British Grand Prix, Europa SuperShow and Tampa Pro). That was the same year, he was signed by FLEX Magazine, where I was employed at the time on their writing staff. It’s not a top secret that the IFBB pros – for the most part with few exceptions – have ghostwriters assigned to do their monthly column with and I had four, one of them being Rhoden.


We spoke once a month, had each other’s cell phone numbers and became friendly. We worked together for approximately a year before I moved on to Muscular Development Magazine, but always kept in touch. Even while I was working for the ‘big two’ bodybuilding publishing companies, I had kept MuscleSport Magazine running (launching it in 2008) and knew that Rhoden was someone destined for greatness. I reached out to him and told him that I wanted to do a cover feature on him for mSm and that ended up being the Winter 2013 issue. The cover had the line “Blast from the past: Shawn Rhoden brings back the classic physique,” and it was a microcosm of things to come – not only for Rhoden, but the industry, as well, with the eventual creation of the classic physique division.


Rhoden and I ran into each other at all the big bodybuilding events and we always exchanged pleasantries and when I asked him if had a few minutes for a quick interview, he always responded with a smiling “Of course” reply. I was obviously rooting heavily for him and when he won the 2018 Mr. Olympia at the age of 43 to dethrone the seven-time champion Phil Heath, I was thrilled for him.


I’m an old school sportswriter who follows the ‘no cheering in the press box’ rule and that you’re an objective journalist, not a fan. But I didn’t care about that when I first saw Rhoden walking back with his family and entourage after leaving the arena. I approached him, gave him his deserved congratulations and shook his hand. A simple, “Thanks, Joe” was greatly appreciated by me and even after he was the top bodybuilder in the world, Rhoden and I continued to have the same relationship and did a number of interviews at events the past few years, even if he had a line at his booth. It may sound trivial, but I was honored that he always knew who I was and remembered my name.


My support for Rhoden didn’t waver and in fact grew stronger when he had his legal issues. Such was not the case with many others in the industry, including AMI (the then-owner of the Olympia, as well as the Weider line of magazines that included FLEX and Muscle & Fitness). AMI head David Pecker released a statement shortly after Rhoden was charged by the Utah Police Department that he is ineligible to compete in the Olympia and banned for life from doing so. He was also dropped as a sponsored athlete from their publications “until the legal process has been completed.” The IFBB didn’t immediately take any action against Rhoden, but he was ‘discouraged’ from renewing his IFBB pro card after these allegations were made public.



We put out an article and video supporting Rhoden and offered him a job as a columnist, recognizing that someone has the right to earn a living while going through the process of defending themselves in the legal system.




“It’s easy to kick someone when they are down, but it takes a true friend to stand by someone at their worst hour,” I said back in July of 2019. “So I would love to work together again but with one caveat – Shawn will in fact write his own column since mSm does not use ghostwriters like the rest of the industry. His fans will finally hear directly from him instead of a third party putting his words together.”


No further details were ever publicized regarding the allegations against Rhoden and I respected his privacy regarding them when I did see him pursuant to them.  But I always told him that I supported him, felt he would be proven innocent and put all of it behind him to reclaim his title. Rhoden knew my background in law enforcement and I always offered him to ask me any questions if he had them.


We saw each other numerous times at the recent Olympia Weekend in the hotel and at the expo. He looked great as usual and had that same smile on his face. He was at the Muscle Beach booth and I was talking to the owner of that company that Rhoden was a great choice to promote them and showed him the image I saved on my phone of the Winter 2013 issue of mSm with Shawn on the cover. I tilted the phone to Rhoden and he showed that big smile.


That’s how I will remember Shawn – smiling.








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