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Strongman and actor Franco Columbu dead at 78


Franco Columbu, shown here in this 2004 photo, was a two-time Mr. Olympia and longtime friend of Arnold Schwarzenegger. (Giulio Marcocchi/Getty Images)

Two-time Mr. Olympia champ and actor Franco Columbu has died at the age of 78.

The Italian-born bodybuilder died Friday while swimming off the coast of his native Sardinia, according to reports in Italian media outlets.

The muscleman, according to his website, set weightlifting records in three categories — bench press (525 pounds), deadlift (750 pounds) and squat (655 pounds). He also secured a spot in the Guinness Book of World Records by bursting a hot water bottle in 55 seconds, solely by sheer lung power.

Before Columbu was inducted into the International Federation of BodyBuilding & Fitness Hall of Fame in 2001, he appeared in Hollywood blockbusters “Conan the Barbarian,” “The Terminator” and “The Running Man,” all of which starred his longtime pal Arnold Schwarzenegger.

“I love you, Franco. I will always remember the joy you brought to my life, the advices you gave me, and the twinkle in your eye that never disappeared,” tweeted the actor and former governor of California. “You were my best friend.”

Columbu and Schwarzenegger came to America together in 1969 to become competitive bodybuilders, reported Generation Iron.

In the documentary “Pumping Iron,” Columbu memorably lifted the back end of a vehicle too tightly parallel-parked on the street to allow it to back out and drive away safely.

Strongman Kevin Sorbo, the former star of the syndicated drama series “Hercules: The Legendary Journeys,” tweeted his condolences.

"I was fortunate to meet Franco a few times back in my Gold Gym days in Venice, (Calif.), Sorbo wrote Friday. “I shot a movie with him a few years ago as well. It was an honor. RIP, sir.”

La Nuova reported that Columbu drowned Friday afternoon while swimming at the Sardinian beach town of San Teodoro; he was pronounced dead at a nearby hospital.

In his later years, he was a nutritionist and chiropractor in Los Angeles.