The Rheo Blair Interview: Part Two

Rheo Blair's childhood on the farm: a frail and sick boy.

Transition to health; discovery of nutrition and development of key principles.

Ben: What was Rheo’s early life like? What early failures and disappointments did he experience while developing his theories?

Charles: Rheo was born on a farm in 1921 in rural New Jersey to parents who were chain smokers and described as very thin, frail people. Rheo himself was very sick and frail as a child. The extent to which his parents’ poor health and lack of physical fortitude may have influenced his own health is difficult to determine since Rheo had an older brother who was in fine health all his life. In other words, the parents own frailty apparently did not affect his brother as it did Rheo. However, Rheo claimed his mother contracted polio not long before his birth and that this was the reason he himself suffered health problems; in other words that he inherited a constitutional weakness resulting from his mothers condition. But this is not the complete story as it is known that Rheo lost a kidney at the age of nine due to an accident and that his health deteriorated after this happened. He was always reticent to speak about this. In any case his doctors did not expect him to live to see his 20th birthday and he was frequently so sick that he finally had to leave high school.
This left him with plenty of time to daydream and so he looked with envy and desire at pictures of bodybuilders, dreaming and wishing to transform his own body to look like theirs. He read everything he could get his hands on about exercise and muscle growth. This led him to order the Charles Atlas course but after months of daily workouts and having followed the instructions to the letter -- he got nowhere. In fact he said the exercises just made him tired.

Ben: What was Blair’s key breakthrough? Who were the key people in shaping Blair’s philosophy and what did they teach him?

Charles: As I said, Rheo read everything he could get his hands on. This reading continued after he became frustrated with barbells and push ups. He came across some information from Bernarr Macfadden that got his attention, so much so that Macfadden ultimately became one of the biggest influences on his thinking. Blair (and of course we are talking about “Irvin Johnson” at this point in his life…) read about the health wonders of drinking large quantities of milk, and I mean consuming nothing but milk for several weeks. This experience was the first major turning point in his life wherein he began changing from being a sickly young man into the robust, dynamic person who changed other peoples lives. His health improved enough with the milk the he genuinely felt good for the first time he could remember. He was even able to go out and get his first job. Quite an accomplishment for an invalid!

However, after a period of time on the milk diet, he developed a sensitivity to the milk resulting in problems including digestion issues. He had to stop drinking milk which consequently resulted in a deterioration once more of his health. However, he continued his voracious reading in search of more and better answers. One expert whose information he encountered was nutritionist Carlton Fredericks. Here he found the answers he had been seeking and Fredericks quickly became Blair’s primary nutritional mentor and remained so for the next 40 years . Rheo took a class with Fredericks in New York where he learned a few methods to improve the digestion and assimilation of the nutrients in the milk. Now he was able to put together a comprehensive health and bodybuilding program for himself which completely turned his life around. He transformed himself over the course of several weeks to the point where people found it hard to believe it could be the same person. He just looked completely different. He had added the muscle that had so eluded him earlier. He even won a minor bodybuilding contest in Chicago. But it was not just muscle. His chemistry was different. He had energy. His skin had better color, his hair had luster. Even his personality was different. No longer downtrodden quiet and depressed. He was dynamic, energetic, outgoing and genuinely happy. Fredericks and Blair remained close until the latter's death in 1983 frequently speaking on the phone and exchanging correspondence. In the summer of 1983, just four months before Rheo died, he and I traveled to New York City to appear on “The Morning Show” with Regis Philbin and Cyndy Garvey. Later that same day we were guests on Carlton Fredericks’ daily radio program for a full half hour. Thus I had the enormous privilege of meeting this great man that meant so much to Rheo and, by extension, to me.

To be continued...

Contact me

Spread the word!

Copyright © 2009 Charles Welling
All rights reserved.

Information found on Rheo H. Blair: The Book is meant for educational and informational purposes only, and to motivate you to make your own health care and dietary decisions based upon your own research and in partnership with your health care provider. It should not be relied upon to determine dietary changes, a medical diagnosis or courses of treatment.