January 22, 2022

Santa Cruz County resident Dave Draper, an iconic, former world-class bodybuilder, dies at 79

View Original Notice ? Santa Cruz County resident Dave Draper, an iconic, former world-class bodybuilder, dies at 79

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Aptos resident Dave Draper, an iconic, world-class bodybuilder who owned World Gym in Santa Cruz and Scotts Valley, died on Tuesday morning at the age of 79.

Draper, who stood 6 feet, 235 pounds, was known as the “Blond Bomber.” Born in Secaucus, New Jersey, Draper began weight training at a young age. He won the 1962 Mr. New Jersey bodybuilding title as a 21-year-old and moved to Santa Monica six months later.

Aptos resident Dave Draper, who earned Mr. America, Mr. Universe and Mr. World bodybuilding titles during the sport’s golden era, died Tuesday at the age of 79. (Instagram) 

In Southern California, he trained at the now-legendary Gold’s Gym alongside fellow icons Arnold Schwarzenegger, Frank Zane, Mike Katz, and Franco Columbu. Training with the world’s best, he earned titles as Mr. America in 1965, Mr. Universe in 1966 and Mr. World in 1970, as recognized by the International Federation of Bodybuilding and Fitness.

Draper’s wife, Laree, confirmed her husband’s death on her Facebook page Tuesday afternoon. The cause of death wasn’t given.

“Hi, friends, as the word’s getting out, I wanted to let you know so there’s no confusion,” she wrote, “Dave died early this morning. I was with him and it was calm and peaceful. It, as his doctor told me a little while ago, was a good death.”

Draper, born April 16, 1942, appeared on nearly a dozen TV shows and in multiple films, including “Lord Love a Duck” in ’66 and “Don’t Make Waves” in ’67. He also appeared on “The Beverly Hillbillies” and was a guest on “Pat Boone in Hollywood” in ’67 and “The Merv Griffin Show” in ’71.

Dave Draper, left, and Arnold Schwarzenegger, right, were friends and training partners during bodybuilding’s golden era. Schwarzenegger paid tribute to Draper on Instagram on Tuesday, hours after Draper died at the age of 79. (Instagram) 

Schwarzenegger, a winner of five Mr. Universe and seven Mr. Olympia titles, paid tribute to Draper on his Instagram page.

“Dave Draper was an inspiration to millions of people all over the world, including me,” Schwarzenegger wrote. “He was one of my idols. In Austria, I kept his cover of Muscle Builder magazine on the wall above my bed for motivation, and when I saw him starring in “Don’t Make Waves,” I thought, “My dreams are possible.

“When I got to America and finally met Dave, I learned his heart was as big as his pecs. He even hand-built my first furniture when I moved to Santa Monica, and let me tell you, he was talented. Can you imagine meeting your idol and becoming his training partner and traveling all over the world together? I was in heaven. He couldn’t have been more welcoming, and he was a fantastic training partner who always pushed everyone around him in the gym to be better. He was an amazing writer and a great family man. I will miss the Blond Bomber, but his memory will always be with me. My thoughts are with Laree and the whole family.”

Clients at World Gym in Santa Cruz pose with owner and world class bodybuilder Dave Draper, third row up on the far right, in 1990. Draper died Tuesday at the age of 79. (Frank DeBernardo – Contributed) 

Draper also penned books, columns, and blog posts on his website, davedraper.com. “A Glimpse in the Rear View,” “Brother Iron, Sister Steel,” “Iron on My Mind” and “Iron in My Hands” are among the highly regarded books he authored. He used a multitude of media platforms to discuss his alcohol and drug addictions, the former led congestive heart failure, and his sobriety since 1983.

His faith helped him pull through, he wrote in a post on his webpage in 2012.

“Booze will kill ya, sure as a bullet. Jesus saves,” he wrote. “Believe what you want, but that’s my story…”

Schwarzenegger was in attendance when Draper opened World Gym near Harvey West Park in 1990. Schwarzenegger spoke glowingly about the man who pushed him and the sport to greater heights.

“I never knew how much he impacted that timeframe until I heard it from Arnold,” said Soquel’s Frank DeBernardo, a gym member there for nearly a decade, “how important he was to the whole scene that was just evolving.”

Dave Draper, left, an iconic, world-class bodybuilder, during the early ’90s with one of his World Gym members, Santa Cruz’s Curtis Busenhart. (Contributed) 

DeBernardo, echoing the sentiments of those who knew Draper, said the larger-than-life figure was quiet and soft-spoken, yet friendly and inspirational. He said Draper had a presence.

“I’d never seen anyone that big in person,” DeBernardo said. “But more intimidating was his silence. You wouldn’t expect him to be as kind as he was for that size; the two don’t seem to go together. He was as kind as the come. When people are that big, you’d expect to hear arrogance or showboating. That wasn’t Dave, at all.”

Draper continued to work out well past his competitive days. Gym members who arrived early enough could catch him training.

“He trained in bare feet, no gloves, no chalk,” DeBernardo said. “Bare hands and bare feet and nothing but metal. It was just another level, a championship, world-class level.”

DeBernardo, who was training to become a stronger fastpitch softball player, didn’t interrupt. He just watched and fueled his motivation.

“He’d answer questions, but I always felt like his presence was enough,” he said.

Photos of Draper and other bodybuilders modestly adorned the walls throughout the gym, several former members said.

Femi Ayanbadejo, a former NFL fullback and special teams player, was a 15-year-old at Santa Cruz High when he first stepped foot in the gym with football teammate Nick Marini. They’d leave campus ahead of lunch to get sessions in three times a week.

“He was about 40 and he looked stage ready,” Ayanbadejo said of Draper.

Ayanbadejo said he bombarded Draper with questions, trying to take in as much as possible.

“He taught me how to bench and squat properly,” said Ayanbadejo, who bulked up from 170 pounds to 195 before heading off to Cabrillo College. “I bought my first supplements from him.”

Both DeBernardo and Ayanbadejo said Draper was big on squats. The Blond Bomber reminded members not to neglect them.

And they listened. The results were in front of their faces.

“He was one of the most jacked dude I’ve ever seen in my life,” Ayanbadejo said.

View Original Notice ? Santa Cruz County resident Dave Draper, an iconic, former world-class bodybuilder, dies at 79

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