Life is fleeting, the body is not an experimental lab, and bodybuilding isn’t about cheating your way in.
High on adrenaline and the quest to bag elite titles, bodybuilders juice up their bodies to the extent that there’s nothing left. The usage of anabolic steroids for muscle building isn’t new; the practice dates back to the late 50s. However, the difference between then and now is the awareness of their adverse side effects.
Abnormally huge body size comes at a price and if you think cycling would help, then know that all the deceased young bodybuilders had the same thought. Piana even thought he had everything under control, but it all blew up.
Once you get hooked on the high of Dianabol, Winstrol, or other anabolic steroids, there’s no going back. This happened with elite bodybuilders who abused steroids and had to leave too soon.
Let’s learn about these young bodybuilders today.
Bodybuilders Who Died Young With Steroid Abuse
There was a time when hitting the gym and pumping for a day made us think – “Oh! I need to buy protein powder as these muscles are all but fat.” This thought has seen a massive shift. Now, the need to have anabolic steroids in the system seems more tempting to help lift better than a can of protein powder.
The need to bulk up and look buffed enough to groove, move, and stand up among various participants is undeniable. However, your route is the deciding factor regarding whether a trophy is worth the risk. And that’s the problem with shortcuts. Once you get a whiff of them, turning to your normal hardworking self, having multiple meals a day, and following a religious workout routine is tough.
In the bodybuilding world, there’s hardly any professional bodybuilder unaware of steroid abuse and what it can lead to. Yet, you would see them continue it for years till the body completely shatters. And it’s quite ironic seeing the muscle mass and buffed-up body turning into a frail, wilted flower.
That’s the charm and harm of testosterone-boosting enhancers. It can make your bodybuilding career, but it can also lead you to the deathbed. Next thing you know, it’s the talk of the town, with major news columns reciting your life story like a pre-written movie script, something that was bound to happen.
We don’t know if the narrative sounds familiar to you, but it does to someone who has seen their close ones’ untimely demise due to the use of performance-enhancing drugs. Let’s hear the story of bodybuilders today who died young due to steroid abuse and became living examples of why it’s a sin not to be repeated.
1. Rich Piana (Died Aged 46)
Cause of death: Heart disease
Rich Piana was a sensation among teen bodybuilders. Enthusiasts used to eagerly wait around in the fitness and bodybuilding conventions just to hear the words of wisdom and truth flow out of his mouth. Yet, who would’ve guessed that this celebrity bodybuilder would leave with the harsh truth he so adamantly believed in but did little to follow?
In his bodybuilding career, Paine had been candid about his prolonged steroid use, the elixir to gain muscle mass and build muscle strength which he started taking at 18. Although he did realize the potion he was taking was no elixir, he didn’t stop taking them. He had reportedly passed out in his Florida home in 2017, and as many as 20 bottles of testosterone were found at his place.
Just two weeks after, the news of his untimely demise followed, where his various fans posted their condolences with heavy hearts. Starting with the typical cycle, “Test and Deca,” where testosterone is mixed with the steroid Deca Durabolin, he went on taking Trenbolone and other human growth hormones.
A rookie bodybuilder can never back off when he knows he can bench better with steroids in the system. That’s what Piana did when he experienced the shift in his strength. He was hooked on them but wasn’t uneducated. He knew about the possible liver failure due to their continuous use and other side effects like balding and gynecomastia (male breast enlargement) and had experienced them too.
Still, he didn’t stop taking them. His autopsy revealed that his heart and liver weighed more than an adult male, and his girlfriend Jansen revealed that he already knew about it. However, he had adamantly believed that he wasn’t abusing steroid usage.
2. Shawn Rhoden (Died Aged 46)
Cause of death: Heart attack
2021 was a sad year for the bodybuilding community where various noteworthy professional bodybuilders had an untimely demise, and Shawn Rhoden was one such pro bodybuilder.
At the age of 46, former Mr. Olympia Rhoden passed away due to a sudden heart attack. He was the oldest bodybuilder ever to win the title. Plus, he was famous for his aesthetically lean body as opposed to the mass monster types we’re prone to see in competitions.
From the earlier aspirations of becoming a soccer player to stepping into bodybuilding, Rhoden faced many challenges in his bodybuilding career. He earned his IFBB Pro card in 2010, and it took him eight years to clinch the title for himself. He finally did so by winning Mr. Olympia in 2018 by dethroning the seven times winner Phil Heath.
Although not much is known about his untimely demise, we can speculate that steroid use was indeed one of the factors that led the champion to his deathbed. Like other professional bodybuilders, he could’ve been into steroids and other growth hormones that are injurious to the heart, and Rhoden even had a prior episode of a heart attack.
In fact, Stan De Longeaux, a close friend and training partner of Shawn mentions the use of steroids which could’ve left a strain on his heart.
His other friends and colleagues also mentioned the stress he was going through due to ongoing charges of sexual assault and the following divorce with his wife. He had a history of alcohol abuse which might have taken a toll on his body over the years with other factors that eventually worsened his condition.
3. Dallas McCarver (Died Aged 26)
Cause of death: Un-witnessed acute cardiac event
What is 26? For some, it’s the beginning, running around in circles starting and living life, but for Dallas, it was the birth of his tragic end. Dallas McCarver died at the ripe age of 26, the age when some soon-to-be bodybuilders are busy planning their future wins.
Just a year before, he found a spot for himself in the top 10 at Mr. Olympia 2016, and then one Tuesday morning, he was found unconscious with food all around him. The next day, it was reported that the bodybuilder had died from choking on food which his WWE star girlfriend, Dana Brooke, also confirmed.
Various speculations were made about his untimely death, and some were even found to be true when the autopsy reports were revealed three months later. Dallas’s autopsy reports revealed that he had severe cardiomegaly and hepatomegaly (enlarged liver and kidneys), heavy lungs, and papillary thyroid carcinoma. The autopsy also highlighted that a history of using non-prescription exogenous steroids and non-steroid hormones had contributed to his untimely death.
Dallas had a whole life ahead of him and so many championships to win, and yet steroid abuse denied him the future he could have enjoyed.
4. Cedric McMillan (Died Aged 44)
Cause of death: Heart attack
Gray clouds loomed over the bodybuilding industry when the beloved pro bodybuilder and the champion of the 2017 Arnold Classic, Cedric McMillan, passed away at 44. There is only a handful of those who step out to achieve the dreams their younger selves laid out for themselves, and Cedric was one of them.
Growing up, it was all muscle and bodybuilding for him; he was obsessed with the sport. And sadly, he died with the hopes of returning to the competitive stage while he was still running on the treadmill. Previous health complications had put a halt on Cedric’s dreams, and he suffered a lot due to heart issues. He later succumbed to them when he was reported dead due to a heart attack.
Now, although one couldn’t find a serious link between steroid abuse and his death, cardiac arrests among pro bodybuilders are becoming increasingly common. This prompts us to analyze the possible side effects of steroids on the heart.
Anabolic steroids have become a norm in professional bodybuilding, which can deteriorate one’s health over time. Moreover, it isn’t hidden that steroids have a negative impact on heart health, and most bodybuilders have suffered its consequences. Episodes of sudden cardiac arrest are frequent among heavyweight bodybuilders infamous for steroid intake, and one can only wonder if that was the case with Cedric McMillan or not.
5. Bostin Loyd (Died Aged 29)
Cause of death: Aortic dissection
29 isn’t an age to die; it’s an age to plan, to grow, and just do anything but lie on a casket, yet it happens when it does. Bostin Loyd’s untimely death occurred in February 2022 when the bodybuilder died due to heart failure and collapsed after his regular gym session.
Bostin was a controversial figure in the bodybuilding community due to the unconventional opinions he held, and almost all bodybuilding enthusiasts know what they were. It was regarding the usage of steroids, which he adamantly supported, and it’s quite ironic as he knew they were the ones that led him to stage 5 kidney failure.
He knew and admitted that injecting anything under the sun had worsened his condition and also revealed about using peptide (Adipotide). Bostin was the first competitive bodybuilder who revealed his steroid cycle while competing and remained a controversial figure throughout his bodybuilding career.
He had won NPC Contra Costa at just 21 and also won in the men’s heavyweight division in 2015 and would have achieved more if not for his kidney failure and other underlying problems. His autopsy revealed that the cause of death was aortic dissection, though his steroid abuse can’t be denied that might have worsened his condition.
Bostin had long treated his body as an experimental testing ground, and just like anything, it gave up. This tells us that more isn’t always good, not anywhere and never in bodybuilding when it comes to steroid use.
6. Daniele Seccarecci (Died Aged 33)
Cause of death: Heart attack
The Italian bodybuilder, Daniele Seccarecci, was another victim of steroid use who untimely died at the age of 33. In 2010, he was certified as a bodybuilder with the heaviest competitive weight (135 kg) by the Guinness World Records and became a pro bodybuilder at the age of 26.
Throughout his career, it was known that he was into steroids and was even charged for illegal steroid marketing in 2011. He had always been interested in bodybuilding and heaved his last breath in 2013 in Taranto after returning from a sports event. The cause of his death was said to be a heart stroke, a common side effect of prolonged steroid use.
Bodybuilders believe cycling would be effective in replenishing the body when taking steroids. However, that’s not true, as once the damage becomes apparent, there’s no going back. Besides, reversing the effects of steroids is no child’s play, and bodybuilders should realize this sooner than later.
7. Andreas Münzer (Died Aged 31)
Cause of death: Dystrophic multiple organ failure
Flex and Muscle Magazine International featured bodybuilder Andreas Münzer, who died an early death too, at the age of 31. He was an Austrian pro bodybuilder who died in 1996 due to liver and kidney failure and other complications. In the bodybuilding community, he’s especially known for his low body fat, which led to his early demise.
While building muscle mass and aiming to reduce body fat, bodybuilders completely deny healthy body fats, which are extremely important for the human body. Andreas was guilty of overlooking this fact too, and he paid a heavy price for that with his life. His ripped body couldn’t hold the weight of his dying body and soon succumbed to death.
He had used many steroids during his career, which lavished him with prestigious championships, but stripped him of his future. He experienced severe stomach pain, internal bleeding, and kidney and heart failure, which caused his demise.
Andreas was a sensation among bodybuilders, and his death brought an uproar in the community while others questioned the usage of steroids, which took him to his deathbed.
8. George Peterson (Died Aged 37)
Cause of death: Sudden cardiac dysrhythmia due to hypertensive cardiovascular disease
Another young death that shook the bodybuilding world was the death of former NPC Men’s Classic Physique champion George Peterson or Da Bull. He was set to compete in Mr. Olympia 2021 for the fifth time, but life had different plans for him. He died just days before the championship in his hotel room due to sudden cardiac dysrhythmia at the age of 37.
The medical examiner reported that anabolic steroids were a contributing factor leading to death. His autopsy report also revealed that there was a presence of Boldenone and Stanozolol, anabolic substances, in his system. Peterson also had an enlarged heart and thickened papillary muscles at the time of his death.
He was at the prime of his career and had so much to experience, yet steroids took a toll on his body. The death of stars like Rich Paine and George Peterson has sparked the debate about these untimely deaths of bodybuilders and how the use of steroids should be closely examined.
Revolutionize The Bodybuilding World
Perfection is deadly, and the quest for the same leads to the casket sooner than later, especially if you’re swayed by results alone and treat your body as an experimental lab. Bodybuilding today has become a deadly sport, and even Arnold Schwarzenegger seems to agree with this.
The string of deaths of celebrated bodybuilders has shaken the trust of many in the sport, and it will continue to wane if nothing is done to stop this. This is particularly agonizing as the list of dead bodybuilders will continue to grow if the focus remains on larger-than-life bodies alone. Elite bodybuilding competitions, especially the divisions like Men’s Open, encourage bodybuilders to gain more muscle mass, appearance, and performance.
However, under normal circumstances, gaining larger builds is challenging, and that’s why most professionals resort to anabolic steroids or performance-enhancing drugs like Dianabol, Anadrol, Anavar, and Deca Durabolin, etc. Research done in certain US cities even shows that as much as 54% of male and 10% of female competitive bodybuilders use steroids.
But that’s not all! One of the major factors that drive young bodybuilders to inject steroids into their system is the perception that this is mandatory for winning. It could be due to the fact that judging in bodybuilding competitions remains subjective, and there isn’t a set criterion over which participants are judged.
When massive muscles with low body fat and symmetrical and balanced physiques are judged, these perceptions become even more established.
Professional Bodybuilder(s) On Anabolic Steroids
Famous bodybuilders have opened up about taking steroids, and all had their own reasons for doing the same. Mr. Olympia winners like Arnold, Wheeler, Yates, Coleman, and Cutler all admitted to taking steroids at some point in time, and Flex even got addicted to them. So, when the most-coveted title winners had admitted to taking them, who wouldn’t follow their suit?
Piana even said – “If you want to become a professional bodybuilder, guess what? You’re probably going to have to do them. You’re not going to have a choice.” This thought process needs to be changed, and this will only happen when divisions like Classic Physique equal Men’s Open Division, where size rules.
Arnold’s commentary during the 2021 Arnold Classic is particularly enlightening on what needs to be done to make bodybuilding a healthier sport, not ruled by drugs. Arnold particularly highlighted how the death rate of open bodybuilders was particularly higher than in MMA.
Even partner commentator McMillan also said that, unlike Men’s Open, Classic Physique competitors “don’t have to worry about being massive.” They don’t have to take steroids to gain more mass to be competitive, and that’s what the problem is.
Even if the champions know they’re playing with their body by injecting steroids, the dread becomes negligible when the performance and great achievements are presented on a platter. However, with so many recent deaths, we think the tides are turning, and bodybuilders will soon realize that juicing up for winning the title isn’t worth the risk.
Jordan Peter already realized this and quit competitive bodybuilding altogether with the demise of Andy Haman, who died after an elbow joint surgery. We hope more and more bodybuilders will follow suit and quit steroids and choose their life over massive builds.
Let’s Encourage Responsible Bodybuilding
Anabolic steroids promote protein synthesis and block cortisol to encourage muscle growth, boost metabolism, and shrink body fat. When taken for medical purposes, it can be highly beneficial to the body; however, the same isn’t the case with recreational usage. Bodybuilders take more steroids to gain muscles and overcome body dysmorphia; if taken regularly, the effects can be damaging.
It can lead to cardiovascular problems, high blood pressure, high blood sugar, weight gain, high blood cholesterol, growth effects, and other psychiatric effects. Prolonged use of steroids in adolescents leads to aggressiveness, impulsion, mania, psychosis, damages organs like the liver and kidney, and also causes liver cancer.
Steroids can damage internal organs and leave ugly acne scars with other harmful effects among athletes and bodybuilders who use them for an extended period. What’s worse is that these effects can’t be reversed once the damage is done.
Therefore, healthy and responsible bodybuilding should be encouraged; otherwise, more such deaths will follow.