Lesser-Known Facts About Arnold Schwarzenegger

The following article includes references to child abuse, alcohol addiction, sexual misconduct, and white supremacy.

It might be hard to picture Arnold Schwarzenegger ever being the underdog, but the Austrian-born bodybuilder-turned-actor was once a vulnerable little kid growing up in a troubled household. As he recalled on Twitter in 2019, the Schwarzenegger family struggled with money and didn't have access to running water. Arnold previously told Graham Bensinger that his hard childhood made him desperate to get away from Austria and achieve success as an adult. "My father really contributed a lot to my hunger," he reflected, adding that even at age 15, his parents were making him pay to stay in their house. "It was always kind of like, 'You can do better.'"

His late father, Gustav Schwarzenegger, was a former Nazi police chief who treated Arnold badly because he reportedly suspected that the boy wasn't his biological son. In an interview with The Hollywood Reporter, Arnold talked about being physically abused by his father and explained how he hadn't followed the example that Gustav set for him. "I don't need to do the same things my dad did," he stated. "I don't need to be prejudiced. I don't need to be an alcoholic. I don't need to beat my kids." The star noted that he wasn't sure whether his father's treatment had left a lingering negative impact on him, adding: "Maybe. I don't know. I don't have nightmares about him. I can't complain."

Keep reading to find out more unexpected stories about the man who went on to become Conan the Barbarian and the Terminator.

If you or someone you know may be the victim of child abuse, please contact the Childhelp National Child Abuse Hotline at 1-800-4-A-Child (1-800-422-4453) or contact their live chat services.

He skipped out on the army for a bodybuilding contest

Arnold Schwarzenegger was obsessed with bodybuilding from a young age thanks to the Hollywood movies that he watched in Austria. He had one particular hero: Reg Park, who played Hercules in a series of action films. "I was a 15-year-old farm kid growing up in Austria when I was first inspired by a bodybuilding magazine with a picture of him on the cover from one of his Hercules movies. My life was never the same," Schwarzenegger wrote on Park's website after his death in 2007. "He was so powerful and rugged-looking that I decided right then and there I wanted to be a bodybuilder, another Reg Park."

The future star's family didn't support his bodybuilding ambitions: as Schwarzenegger told Graham Bensinger, his father used to berate him for looking into mirrors too much. But it was already too late for Arnie, who had set his sights on the world of competitions. Schwarzenegger even left his compulsory army service to compete in the Junior Mr. Europe contest, which led to him spending a short time in military prison. He went on to be the youngest Mr. Universe in history. "The Mr. Universe title was my ticket to America — the land of opportunity where I could become a star and get rich," Schwarzenegger noted in a 2001 speech, as shared on his website.

Arnold Schwarzenegger's brother died in a car crash

Arnold Schwarzenegger experienced tragedy in 1971 when his brother, Meinhard Schwarzenegger, died in a car crash. The actor later told The Hollywood Reporter that his brother was driving under the influence at the time and that he had struggled with alcoholism. "We were opposites. He was more fragile," Arnold reflected, observing how their tough childhood molded them. "He got the same treatment and became an alcoholic and died drunk driving. What tore him down built me up. It goes back to Nietzsche: What doesn't kill you makes you stronger — and he got killed."

He didn't attend his brother's or his father's funerals and has given different explanations for his absence over the years. In his 2012 autobiography "Total Recall," Arnold claimed that he wasn't able to go to his father's memorial in 1972 due to a large cast on his leg following knee surgery. He also admitted that despite his sympathy for his mother, Aurelia Schwarzenegger, he was relieved that his surgeon told him not to travel since he could block out his grief rather than address his familial trauma. In the wake of the two losses, Arnold decided to work on his relationship with his mother and pay for his nephew Patrick's schooling, promising to bring him out to Los Angeles for college eventually. "He became my pride and joy," the actor wrote.

If you or anyone you know needs help with addiction issues, help is available. Visit the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration website or contact SAMHSA's National Helpline at 1-800-662-HELP (4357).

He started out in America with a bricklaying business

Arnold Schwarzenegger has always been an impressive businessman. And in the early days, before he was a movie star, he used his business skills to get rich from bricklaying. "I had a 'European Bricklaying' business w/ my friend Franco to afford the supplements & food," he recalled on Twitter in 2013, explaining how he supported himself. Schwarzenegger's friend was Franco Columbu, an Italian-American bodybuilder who also won Mr. Olympia, and together the pair of Europeans marketed themselves as a construction team.

"We loved bricklaying and felt very productive. We also had a lot of fun," Schwarzenegger revealed in his autobiography, sharing an anecdote about a woman who was going to pay $1,000 to have her chimney demolished. "A thousand dollars?" Columbu reportedly replied. "Let me look at this." The late bodybuilder walked up the roof without any tools and dismantled the entire chimney with a leg press, sending bricks flying. "Oh, thank you so much for helping us! This was very dangerous," the customer replied, apparently not bothered that she was almost hit by the chimney. "She not only gave us the job but let us keep the old bricks, which I then sold to another customer as 'vintage bricks,'" Schwarzenegger noted.

The pair also made a lot of money rebuilding after the 1971 Los Angeles earthquake. They were hired to repair so many properties in the San Fernando Valley that they had to hire 15 more bodybuilders to help out.

Arnold Schwarzenegger's first film had to be dubbed

Arnold Schwarzenegger learned English when his bodybuilding coach took him to live with his family in London's East End, as he told Absolute Radio, but his accent was still so thick that his lines had to be dubbed over in his first film. The 1970 movie "Hercules in New York," starred Arnie as the Greek hero brought to earth, but his performance was accompanied by a smooth American voice.

The director, Arthur Allan Seidelman, told HuffPost that he didn't know Schwarzenegger's voice would be dubbed. "That was a surprise to me. The first release was with Arnold's voice," he explained, revealing that whoever owned the rights after the first release had decided that the star was too hard to understand. "So, they changed his name to Arnold Strong and dubbed him — and it didn't work as well! Part of Arnold's charm was lost in the process. I had nothing to do with it."

Seidelman also admitted that he didn't ever think the Austrian bodybuilder would end up as an actor, despite his admirable work ethic and fun screen presence. "I would not have predicted either an action star or governor," the filmmaker laughed. "... You would be hard-pressed to think of him as a serious actor in any way." Seidelman also recalled that Schwarzenegger rang him up in 1998 to ask for a poster of "Hercules in New York" so that he could memorialize his first-ever film in his office.

The actor saved a drowning man's life in 2004

Arnold Schwarzenegger is known for his heroic feats of strength in movies, but the actor-turned-politician has also reportedly rescued someone in real life.

In 2004, Schwarzenegger was in Hawaii with his wife and children when he allegedly noticed someone in danger at a Maui beach. "He saw a man in distress in the water and brought him back to the shore," one of his aides told The Sydney Morning Herald, explaining that the water was reportedly six meters deep out there. "The man was hanging onto a boogie board and the governor knew there was something wrong and asked the guy if he was okay." When the struggling swimmer replied that he couldn't move due to his severe cramps, Schwarzenegger apparently grabbed his boogie board and started swimming, pulling him back to the beach for 100 yards. 

A witness told the Sunday Mirror that Schwarzenegger reportedly stayed by his side after they reached the shore: "Arnie sat with this guy for quite a while as he had cramps, was breathless and a bit shaken up." The anonymous swimmer was also understandably "overawed by having just been rescued by the Terminator," according to the onlooker. "It's not every day one of the world's most famous movie heroes saves you from drowning," they added, joking that he must have been starstruck. "I'm sure he'll be telling all his friends although they might not believe him."

Arnold Schwarzenegger had a love child with his housekeeper

Arnold Schwarzenegger made headlines in 2011 with a scandal that tore his personal life apart. His 25-year marriage to journalist and niece of JFK, Maria Shriver, ended when it was revealed that he had cheated on her with their longtime housekeeper, Mildred Baena. He and Baena hid the fact that he was the real father of her son for 15 years, and the public only found out from the Los Angeles Times after Schwarzenegger's political career ended, although he had reportedly supported the child financially ever since he discovered the truth.

"After leaving the governor's office I told my wife about this event, which occurred over a decade ago," Schwarzenegger stated, offering an apology to his and Shriver's loved ones. The actor also asked the public to leave his children alone during the subsequent media storm. "I understand and deserve the feelings of anger and disappointment among my friends and family," Schwarzenegger said. "There are no excuses and I take full responsibility for the hurt I have caused." 

In 2014, the star admitted in a Reddit AMA that out of everything in his life, the affair was his biggest source of shame. "I'm least proud of the mistakes I made that caused my family pain and split us up," Schwarzenegger stated.

He's embraced his messy family situation

Although Arnold Schwarzenegger admitted that his divorce was very hard at first, he now insists that he and ex-wife Maria Shriver learned to co-parent despite the drama. "If there's Oscars for how to handle divorce, Maria and I should get it for having the least amount of impact on the kids," he claimed in his May 2023 interview with The Hollywood Reporter, praising Shriver for letting him spend every holiday with the whole family. "I love my wife. She and I are really good friends and very close, and we are very proud of the way we raised our kids," he added, reflecting on how they tried to pass on their best qualities to their four children. "The sweetness and kindness you see in them, that's from my wife. The discipline and work ethic is from me."

He has also embraced a father-son relationship with Joseph Baena, his child with Mildred Baena, even if the other Schwarzenegger kids are reportedly not particularly close to their half-brother due to the circumstances of his birth. "You have earned all of the celebration and I'm so proud of you. I love you!" Schwarzenegger wrote on Instagram after Joseph's college graduation in 2019. "It's always cute seeing his vulnerable, little fatherly side. I love it," Joseph, who is also an actor, told Variety on the "Fubar" premiere's red carpet in May 2023.

Arnold Schwarzenegger apologized during #MeToo backlash

In 2003, six women came forward to the Los Angeles Times about Arnold Schwarzenegger and how he had allegedly committed sexual misconduct towards them over the decades. "Did he rape me? No," one of the women stated, reflecting on how he had apparently groped her without permission in the '80s. "Did he humiliate me? You bet he did." Other women insisted that the actor's alleged behavior had been enabled by other men and that he acted completely different when his wife, Maria Shriver, was around.

As more women came forward around this time, Schwarzenegger and his team initially denied the allegations. However, after the #MeToo movement brought allegations of sexual misconduct into the spotlight, Schwarzenegger bluntly addressed the issue in a 2018 interview with Men's Health. "Looking back, I stepped over the line several times, and I was the first one to say sorry," the actor admitted. "I feel bad about it, and I apologize." He also reflected on how he was voted into a position of power in California shortly after the women came forward and how this affected his behavior. 

"When I became governor, I wanted to make sure that no one, including me, ever makes this mistake," Schwarzenegger said. "That's why we took sexual harassment courses, to have a clear understanding, from a legal point of view and also from a regular-behavior point of view, of what is accepted and what is not."

If you or anyone you know has been a victim of sexual assault, help is available. Visit the Rape, Abuse & Incest National Network website or contact RAINN's National Helpline at 1-800-656-HOPE (4673).

He stopped voting republican because of Donald Trump

In more recent years, longtime Republican Arnold Schwarzenegger has drifted away from the party he'd always represented, thanks to one man: Donald Trump. In a statement on his Twitter account in 2016, the former governor explained that he felt like it was important to put his love of America ahead of his party loyalty, implying that a presidential victory for Trump would endanger the country. "For the first time since I became a citizen in 1983, I will not vote for the Republican candidate for President," Schwarzenegger announced, admitting that he wasn't sure exactly how he would vote. The actor went on to urge his fellow Republicans to do the right thing, observing that he used to be proud to be part of "the party of Abraham Lincoln, Teddy Roosevelt, and Ronald Reagan."

In the wake of Trump's election and the outbreak of white supremacist violence in Charlottesville, Virginia, Schwarzenegger made a rare speech about the Nazis he grew up around, calling on Trump to condemn neo-Nazi groups in a 2017 video posted on Facebook. "The world is watching," he insisted. The actor also addressed the white supremacist groups themselves, telling them: "Your heroes are losers." Reflecting on his childhood, Schwarzenegger added, "Growing up, I was surrounded by broken men. ... I can tell you that these ghosts that you idolize spent the rest of their lives living in shame, and right now, they're resting in hell."

Arnold Schwarzenegger spoke out against the Ukraine war

Even if he's not a governor anymore, Arnold Schwarzenegger isn't scared to make political statements. He still cares deeply about climate change, he urged Americans to follow COVID-19 protocols set by health experts, and he compared the deadly January 6 Capitol riots to Kristallnacht. And when the war in Ukraine broke out, he spoke about his father to warn the world against Russia and its propaganda.

"The world has turned against Russia because of its actions in Ukraine," Arnold declared on Twitter in March 2022, addressing Russian citizens and letting them know about the global perspective on the invasion. "This is not the war to defend Russia like your grandfather or your great-grandfather fought. This is an illegal war!" He also praised Russian protesters who had demonstrated against the war for their bravery in the face of harsh punishments. "You have been arrested, you've been jailed, and you've been beaten. You are my new heroes," the star added, declaring that they "have the true heart of Russia."

Arnold also invoked his father's military history in Russia, describing how Gustav Schwarzenegger had fought at Leningrad in the Nazi army. "When my father arrived in Leningrad, he was all pumped up on the lies of his government. When he left Leningrad, he was broken — physically and mentally," the actor admitted, describing the guilt that plagued Gustav for the rest of his life. "I don't want you to be broken like my father."