The Black Sheep of Bodybuilding

An interview with former pro Mike Quinn

T Nation sits down with former pro-bodybuilder Mike Quinn for a tell-all interview.

Here at T-Nation, we don’t interview pro-bodybuilders unless they’re willing to cut the BS and dish the dirt. Since telling the truth about steroids and crazy lifestyles isn’t good for business, most of them won’t talk to us until they retire from competition.

Mike Quinn doesn’t really fit that mold however. He was considered a black sheep and a “bad boy” even before he retired. Many even consider this former Mr. USA and NABBA Mr. Universe to be the original bad boy of bodybuilding. Quinn got into fights and had a reputation for being hostile. He also spoke his mind and pissed off a lot of people. In short, he was fun to watch and the magazines loved him.

But by the mid-nineties, Quinn had all but disappeared from the sport. Since Mike had inspired me in the past in my bodybuilding efforts, I decided to track him down and get the whole, uncensored story.

Mike, you had a reputation as a fighter when you were competing. Did you get into a lot of fights as a kid?

I grew up in Brockton, Massachusetts, home of Rocky Marciano and Marvin Hagler. It’s known as a pretty rough city. I was picked on a lot and got the shit beaten out of me until I was thirteen or fourteen. Then, later, I beat the fuck out of anyone that had ever beaten me up.

People have this idea that I’m some kind of bully, but the truth is that I hate bullies. The only fights I’ve ever been involved in were always with guys who were assholes and picked on those smaller and weaker than they were.

What type of kid were you?

I was a weird kid; I had a nervous condition. Technically I was mentally ill. I was basically raised by my grandfather until he died when I was eleven. I really don’t remember a whole lot from my childhood because it’s all blocked out, but mental problems aren’t unheard of in my family. Just on one side, eight of my relatives have either committed suicide or attempted it. [Note: Mike’s sister took her own life.]

Plus I have ADHD. I wonder sometimes if all the vaccinations as a kid had anything to do with it, because back then all the vaccines had mercury in them.

How did you get into training?

My dad had a little gym in the cellar and one day when I was thirteen, he decided it was time for me to start lifting. That first day, just messing around, I benched 220 pounds.

Were you already muscular?

I was a husky kid, chubby, you know? Instead of pecs I had boobs. That’s why it’s always been tough for me to get ripped. I trained at home until I was fifteen, then football kicked in. I was a really good football player and regret not going pro. I thought I was too short at 5’8" for the NFL.

But my weight training was always my therapy–where I could get all my anger out and finally relax. I’d finish a two-hour football practice, then take the bus across town to the gym and train for an hour and a half to two hours.

When did you know you had a gift for bodybuilding?

I actually competed in powerlifting for a while as a teenager. When I was eighteen and getting ready for a meet, I was supposed to squat 550 for five that day. I only got four reps and all of a sudden I just said, “Fuck this! I’m gonna be a bodybuilder!” Six weeks later I entered the Teen Mr. Bay State and won.

A few months after that I won the Teen Mr. Massachusetts as well as my class in the Men’s Open, and then capped it all off with the Teenage Mr. America title. Even as a teenager I was as good as most of the older guys competing in the sport.

A couple years later I took third in the Mr. America to Joe Meeko, a guy who never did anything else in the sport, but right after that I won the 1984 NABBA Universe in London, the same show that Arnold and Steve Reeves had won. Of course, when I wanted to become a professional in the IFBB they made me start all over again with state-level shows until I won the USA in '87.

How were you first introduced to steroids?

The first few years I trained in a gym, my dad trained there with me and kept all the steroid dealers away from me. It’s probably the only good thing he ever did for me. But I was getting bigger and stronger all the time naturally anyway. Why would you think about steroids if everything was going so well?

Then when I was eighteen, I decided I’d try them. First I educated myself, then I went to a local doctor who would prescribe steroids to athletes in the area. My first cycle was a hundred milligrams a week each of Test and deca, three D-bols a day and four Anavar. I won my first show on that. I never used steroids to build muscle, only to hold on to muscle while I dieted.

Is it fair to say that there was more emphasis back then on hard training and less on the drugs you took?

To sum it up, bodybuilding in the eighties was awesome and the nineties were a huge disappointment. In the eighties, your training was the most important thing, then came diet, and the drugs were a distant third. That hierarchy seems to have reversed itself since then. Now kids will come up to me and their first question is usually how much I bench. Right after that they want to know what steroids I use. It’s so pathetic.

Do you think too many kids jump into using steroids these days without taking the time to build a natural base of size and strength?

Definitely, and the thing that makes no sense to me is that with all the information they can get online now, almost none of these kids are educating themselves about drugs before they start using them. They’re just going by hearsay and duplicating what they think the pro’s are using. I think you have to be mentally ill these days to be a bodybuilder.

You were always known as a very intense trainer. Did people get frightened or intimidated by you in the gym?

All the time. In fact, it’s still hard for me now to get personal training clients because people think I’m crazy. But I’ve never once turned down an autograph from a fan. You have to understand that the gym is my office; it’s where I go to work.

I have ADHD, which gave me the ability to hyper-focus for short periods of time. When I was finally diagnosed, I studied the disease and how it manifests itself. Suddenly a lot of the bad decisions and impulsive behavior in my past made sense. ADHD is like a slide projector. You’re always one slide ahead of the one on the screen.

You also had the reputation of being bodybuilding’s “bad boy.” How did that come about?

I never, ever proclaimed myself to be a “bad boy.” I think it sounds stupid, really. I guess it was just the way I trained and the photos they ran of me looking so hostile. But those pictures sold. When I had my first Ironman cover, their sales doubled.

I would’ve been perfect for contact sports like football or hockey, but the funny thing is the myth of me being a brawler or a troublemaker became a reality. I’d go out and guys would want to start trouble with me just because of that image. I always had to be on the defensive. I was never afraid to speak my mind and I never could stand to see a bully push people around. If that makes me a bad boy, fine.

You struggled with a recreational drug problem for several years, correct?

It was an on and off thing. I wasn’t a drug addict. I was actually self-medicating the anxiety from my ADHD with cocaine. When I used coke, I could read, I could think straight, and I was centered. I thought it made me normal. ADHD is the opposite of ADD. You aren’t hyper-active, you’re hyper-reactive to stimuli. It’s why I had no control over my anger as a young man.

I assume you’re on more traditional medications for it now, right?

I was on Wellbutrin for years and it was very effective, but I could never sleep. Now I’m on Paxil for my manic depression and Stratera. I still don’t feel a hundred percent normal.

When was the last time you really lost your temper or had any type of physical altercation?

It was last November. This asshole – who turned out to be a little juiced-up bodybuilder – thought my wife stole his parking spot at Home Depot and started threatening her. She was scared so she called me. I was twenty-five minutes away so I told her to block his car in so he couldn’t leave.

By the time I got there he’d gone into a GNC store that was next to Home Depot. I threw that piece of shit around like a rag doll. I put him through every display in there. But I’m 42 years old now. I tore a couple of ligaments in my shoulder tossing that dirtbag around.

How big do you stay these days anyway?

I’m trying to get smaller, but I’m still 240. The biggest I ever got was 290, but it was very, very uncomfortable. I don’t know how these guys now can walk around like that. You take a few steps and you’re out of breath. We stayed in better shape in the 80’s and weren’t so much into this extreme bulking up. We just knew it couldn’t be healthy.

There was also an incident where you lost your gym over some dealings related to the mob, right?

Yeah, it was a pretty scary thing. I had two partners in my gym in Florida. One was a guy from England who owned a supplement company. The other was a chiropractor from Boca Raton. We each put a quarter million into it, and the chiropractor was supposed to get five grand a month.

I let my partner run the business, not knowing that he had a drug problem and wasn’t managing the money properly. He missed a few payments to the chiropractor. One day we got a visit from four “real” Italian men who let us know that it was really their money the chiropractor had given us, and they didn’t appreciate us not making the payments on the loan. These guys were from one of the top crime families in the USA. I got scared and signed all my shares away.

So you never had anything to do with the Mafia?

I had friends who were involved, but I never had any part in that stuff and never asked about that. Thank God I knew them though, because there was an incident a few years ago where a club owner in Miami wanted me dead and put a hit out on me. I made a phone call and the hit was off. The guy had smashed a tequila bottle over my head and face.

Nice. Why did you stop competing?

I stopped because the sport became a cult. The winners started becoming the guys with the best chemists. The only true genetic freak in the pro’s today is Ronnie Coleman. He actually turned pro when he was still clean. There’s so much bullshit and politics in the sport now. It’s all a bunch of crybabies who bitch and moan but never make a stand.

You want to get things changed? Boycott the Mr. Olympia! This is the only sport I know where the federation turns its back on athletes when they have health problems. In Europe, when a soccer player gets ill, they put on special charity matches to raise money for him.

Some people look at the pro’s in the magazines and assume they’re getting laid like NBA stars. Do the guys get a lot of different women?

Sure, there were some guys I knew who had their share of bodybuilding groupies and it’s probably the same nowadays. I was always a one-woman type of guy, not a womanizer. Some of the guys who had a lot of different women were also swinging both ways and that still goes on too.

That’s the rumor for sure. Let’s talk drugs. Can you explain, at least from your experience, what steroids do to your sex drive? And what happens to your mojo when the cycle is over?

I can say that the older you get, the worse of a “letdown” you experience when the cycle is over. But I never had much of a problem. I’m a Scorpio and we’re known to be very virile. The only thing that’s ever ruined an erection for me is stress.

I never had the wild highs and lows with the sex drive because I never abused Testosterone. A lot of guys love Test because it’s cheap and you get all the fast strength and weight gains. I never liked the way Test made me feel. I always used deca as my base and would stack that with a little Equipoise and D-bol, going six weeks on, two weeks off. The last six weeks before a contest would just be Primobolan, Winstrol-V, and a real androgenic oral like Halotestin toward the very end.

So you think Test is bad news for just about everybody?

It works well for some guys and not others. With me it always created a weird imbalance, probably because my body always produced plenty on its own. When you come off it, your joints stop producing synovial fluid. Another drug that’s horrible on your joints is Winstrol. I could never stay on either one of those drugs for more than four weeks at a time.

Another thing is that I always made sure to have blood work done during the cycles, not after like most guys do. If my enzymes were too high, I’d back off on the dosage. Bodybuilders need to know that they have to stop exercising for two days before a blood test or else all the waste products from training will make the liver and kidney values too high.

Did steroids make your temper worse?

No. The only thing that ever pissed me off was dieting. I always had to really suffer to get ripped. Now these guys just use a ton of thyroid and DNP and still eat like pigs up until the day of the show.

How relevant to the average guy in the gym is a training article talking about what a top-ten Mr. Olympia competitor does?

It has no relevance whatsoever. These guys are on so many drugs they can get away with training almost every day for hours. If the average guy tries to do the same thing, he’ll kill himself overtraining in a week or two.

In your experience, are most pro’s experts on the subjects of training and nutrition?

Absolutely not. Bodybuilding at that level is pure narcissistic behavior. These guys go to very unhealthy extremes. Like this high-protein, high-fat diet so many of them are on. Number one, you get hypoglycemic from the lack of carbs. Two, your pancreas will be damaged, and three, with no fiber to help you eliminate waste, you’re at a very high risk for colon cancer.

I read about all these guys now eating five hundred grams of protein a day and telling kids to do the same. How ridiculous! Nobody needs more than a gram per pound a day.

What else are these guys doing that’s dangerous?

Insulin! Anyone who isn’t diabetic and takes insulin just to get big is a moron. That’s why the guys are so big now, the insulin and GH, but you can’t put your organs out of balance like that and expect no long-term health problems.

These guys now eat way too much food, too. All that force-feeding ages your body really fast. They’re burning out their digestive enzymes stuffing themselves every two hours. You should only eat when you’re hungry. It’s such a common sense thing, but there isn’t much common sense in bodybuilding anymore.

Does it shock you to see how much the drug use has increased and become more complicated since the 80’s? Would you consider it overkill?

It shocks me to see the lack of intelligence and the total disregard for health. There’s no doubt in my mind these guys now are all using far more than they need to. Whenever anyone asks me about steroids, I usually tell them that I might have been insane, but I was never stupid!

In your day, I don’t ever recall hearing about you guys needing gurus to get into shape. Why do you think the pro’s today all seem to have them?

Well, we didn’t have gurus, but you can’t be a top bodybuilder without a great support system. I had a great training partner named Paul Fetters, my girlfriend back then, Dana Golden, helped me with my diet and Rick Valente worked with me on my posing. You need to have a few people who’ll give you their honest opinions on what you look like.

I don’t really know Chad Nicholls and have never heard anything bad about him, but I have heard of guys paying him up to ten grand to get them ready for a show. That’s ridiculous. All you need to do is keep a good food log and a mirror. Just make notes as to how various types and quantities of foods affect your particular body.

It seems like you and the other guys from the 80’s had a lot of fun competing. Were you all friendly with each other?

It was a fun time. We were like comrades because we saw each other so much. The only guy who was hard to get to know was Richie Gaspari. He was stressed out all the time.

What do you think about pro’s trashing each other and threatening to kick each other’s asses?

I say if you’re really gonna kick someone’s ass, you just do it. You don’t talk about it for months and years. That’s how you know these guys are all talk. They see each other a few times a year and have plenty of chances to fight if they really wanted to.

Out of all the men you competed with and met, who were the biggest gentlemen and who were the biggest jerks?

Almost all the guys were real gentlemen back then: Lee Haney, Lee Labrada, Berry DeMey, Mike Christian, Ron Love, and Bob Paris. Toward the end when I was competing, two European guys, both now dead, struck me as being the same way. That was Andreas Munzer and Momo Benaziza.

The only jerk I knew from my day was Shawn Ray. I was standing next to him once when this young kid, maybe ten or eleven years old, walks up with his mom to Shawn. The kid’s mom says her son has Shawn’s pictures up all over his bedroom wall and would love an autograph. Shawn just blew him off and walked away. I felt so bad I gave him one of my photos and signed it. Later I got a letter from the mom saying her son had torn down all of Shawn’s pictures and put mine up.

Are you still a fan of bodybuilding? If so, who are your favorite guys on the circuit today?

I am a fan, yes. I like Ronnie Coleman a lot. He reminds me a lot of Lee Haney with his natural, easy going spirituality. Plus he was a police officer all those years, so obviously he’s the type of guy who likes to help people. I’m also a big fan of Darrem Charles. He’s one guy who’s really paid his dues. Most people don’t know that for years, even as a pro, he was totally natural.

What are you up to these days?

I started a supplement line called Lifestyle Essentials. The target market is the mainstream. It’s not a bodybuilding supplement line and my name and image will never appear in the marketing. I’m negotiating with GNC now to carry the line.

The last time I spoke with you over a year ago, you were considering the Masters Olympia. Is that still a possibility or have you changed your mind about that?

Yeah, there’s no way I’d do it now. If I were to use steroids and growth hormone now, I’d do it legally through a life extension clinic, so it would end up costing me thirty grand to get ready for a show with a first prize of ten thousand dollars. It just doesn’t add up.

If you were starting out in bodybuilding nowadays, would you still want to be a pro?

No. I’d train for my own health and satisfaction, but the extremes the sport has gone to with the drugs and the diet are something I’d never want any part of.

Thanks for the candid talk, Mike.