George Butler Dies: Pumping Iron Filmmaker Was 78

Documentary filmmaker George Butler, best known for his 1977 film Pumping Iron that raised Austrian bodybuilder Arnold Schwarzenegger to Hollywood prominence, died of pneumonia Oct. 21 at home in New Hampshire. He was 78 and his death was confirmed by his son, Desmond Butler, a Washington Post reporter.

Butler directed more than 10 films during his four-decade career. He co-directed Pumping Iron with Robert Fiore.

The son of a British Army officer, he spent his childhood in Somalia and Jamaica.

His final project, Tiger Tiger, is scheduled for next year. The film follows a big cat conservationist into the wilds of India and Bangladesh.

Butler had covered bodybuilding as a journalist in the 1970s, collaborating on a book on the subject before raising funds for the film. The film exponentially raised the profile of Schwarzenegger, who had scored just a few small TV and film roles at the time. The film depicted his training at Gold’s Gym in Venice, Calif. as he sought to defend his Mr. Olympia bodybuilding title in South Africa against Lou Ferrigno, who would also later go on to a Hollywood career, most prominently as the title character in The Incredible Hulk tv series.

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Schwarzenegger praised Butler in a tweet sent shortly after his death.

“When I think about all of the people who were responsible for the growth of bodybuilding and the sport’s crossover to the mainstream, two of the first people to come to mind are, without any doubt, George Butler and Charles Gaines,” he wrote.

Butler latermade the 1985 film Pumping Iron II: The Women, and the 2004 documentary Going Upriver, portraying future US Secretary of State John Kerry. The film about Kerry’s service in the Vietnam War was released the year Kerry was running for president as the Democratic nominee.

His other works included The Endurance, a 2000 film about Ernest Shackleton’s 1914 expedition to the Antarctic, and 2006’s Roving Mars, about the Mars Exploration Rovers.

Butler is survived by companion and writer/producer Caroline Alexander, sons Desmond and Tyssen, and six grandchildren. No memorial plans have been announced.

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