The Unkillable Arnold Schwarzenegger
Arnold Schwarzenegger boards an elevator beside a mural of Arnold Schwarzenegger, ascends to a third-floor hallway lined with pictures of Arnold Schwarzenegger, walks through double doors guarded by a life-size statue of Arnold Schwarzenegger, and enters his Santa Monica office. He sits in a high-backed armchair upholstered in crocodile skin, opposite a coffee table laden with fresh berries, fine china and stacks of napkins printed with the seal of the governor of the state of California. His arms are huge; his calves bulge below blue athletic shorts: He is fresh from a workout.
Schwarzenegger — back in the private sector for more than four years now, after two terms leading the state from Sacramento — takes movie and business meetings here. Against a far wall are cases displaying “my trophies from old bodybuilding competitions,” he says. Behind his desk is a towering Andy Warhol silk-screen of Russell Means, the Native American actor and activist; below this sits a small photograph of Meinhard Schwarzenegger, Arnold’s strikingly beautiful older brother, who died in a car crash at 24. Schwarzenegger has forgotten what Meinhard’s voice sounded like. But he thinks of him often. “I have always been extremely pissed off about the idea of death,” he says. “It’s such a waste. I know it’s inevitable, but what the hell is that? Your whole life you work, you try to improve yourself, save money, invest wisely, and then all of a sudden — poof. It’s over.” Arnold Schwarzenegger is 67. “Death pisses me off more than ever,” he says.
Immortality — the way legacies can outlive us — has long obsessed him. One of Schwarzenegger’s favorite TV series these days is Legends & Lies, on Fox News, which examines the myths around historic figures. “I watched an episode on Jesse James last night,” he says. Schwarzenegger will tell you that some men are born to lead and that others are born merely to follow, but even in the former category, there is a pecking order: He gestures toward the west side of the room, where bronze busts of Abraham Lincoln, John F. Kennedy and Ronald Reagan nestle closely. Set a few feet to the east is a bust of Vladimir Lenin. “The idea is to show losers” – he points at Lenin, then turns his finger westward — “and winners.” Schwarzenegger grew up in Cold War-era Austria, in Thal, a rural village that lived in fear, as he remembers it, of Soviet forces. For a time, here in L.A., he surrounded his swimming pool with statues of “Stalin, Khrushchev, Andropov, Chernenko — every Russian leader but Brezhnev and Kosygin.” He placed them atop ornamental columns, like the skulls of vanquished foes smushed onto pikes.
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