Lou Ferrigno: the disability that marked his childhood, the curse of the Hulk and his eventful encounter with Martín Karadagian

The Paramount+ series The offerexcellent recreation of the ups and downs around the filming of The Godfatherbrought him back to the center of the scene. At age 70, Lou Ferrigno (N. de la R.: pronounce as it sounds and not “Ferriño”) put his meter ninety-eight in height, plus the same width, at the service of the mobster Lenny Montana, who in Francis Ford Coppola’s film also played the mobster Luca Brasi.

45 years after the first time it was painted green to become The incredible Hulk of TV, Ferrigno went through all the states: fear, rejection, extreme popularity, typecasting and oblivion. All without practically saying a word.

When in 1977 he signed the contract to be the alter ego of Dr. David Banner (Bill Bixby) -first to Arnold Schwarzenegger who was also behind the role-, Lou Ferrigno was already a star in his field. At 22 years old he was the youngest bodybuilder to win the Mr. Universe title (he would win it twice), he had also won Teenage Mr. America and Mr. America. But his imposing presence hid a history of insecurity and mistreatment that Lou had carried since childhood. “At the age of 12 I started training -he told in a television interview-, I was shy, I didn’t talk much, so I thought that being stronger I could have more friends. I wanted to be strong, a superhero”. Her insecurity had been born from having lost 65 percent of her hearing at the age of three, as a result of an ear infection. From that moment she began to use hearing aids: “Most people did not understand what that device was. That’s when I knew that the only person who was going to help me was myself.”

This disability also confronted him with his father, who used to tell him that as a result of it it was very difficult for him to succeed in life. “I needed to have more confidence in myself, so a friend lent me some weights that he had and I started using them every day. Little by little I began to gain muscle, the only thing I did was that and read comics”. Among them, logically, were those of the Hulk.

Already a bodybuilding prodigy, and confident that this was going to be his best letter of introduction, Lou Ferrigno found out that a series about his comic book idol, the green giant, was being prepared, and he was very excited to audition. His main rival was Arnold Schwarzenegger, three years older than him and with whom he had already “itched” in bodybuilding competitions, but Lou kept the role. And it was only then, when the doors of the entertainment world opened for him, that he found out something that did not convince him at all: “Everything had been great for me, until they told me I had to be painted green. I didn’t like the idea at all because that whole process took a long time, more than three hours between the prosthetics and the painting, not counting the touch-ups after 12 hours of shooting.”. She must not have had such a bad time because she willingly endured this rhythm for 82 episodes over five seasons.

On May 12, 1982, the last episode of The incredible Hulkleaving Lou Ferrigno adrift. With a fame that he himself did not understand, but pigeonholed in a role that until then had been his life: “I could not walk down the street anywhere in the world because they immediately recognized me.”

So much fame also had its flip side. In October 1981, while in Egypt, the interpreter was invited by President Anwar el-Sadat to a parade but at the last moment the president canceled his presence, and therefore, that of Ferrigno. A few days later, Anwar Sadat and 12 companions were gunned down in a box during a public event, the subsequent investigation revealed that the original plan was to kill him at the previous event, the one he was going to share with Ferrigno at his side.

Although Ferrigno was convinced that -perhaps by osmosis- he had learned from his friend and colleague Bill Bixby everything necessary to be something more than a pretty body, the first offer that came to him and he accepted was to transform into Hercules, another of his favorite childhood heroes whose name also started with “H”. This time his colleague Schwarzenegger had beaten him to the punch, because he had already played the role in Hercules in New York (1970), although Ferrigno denied this version to stay with those starring Steve Reeves in the 50s. Based on them, with more dialogue and the same inexpressiveness of the Hulk but without makeup, and with a beard, the actor starred in Hercules (1983) years The Adventures of Hercules (1985). The poor reception that this second film had curtailed any possibility of making another sequel; Lou was back on the canvas, but the character who made him famous was about to give him a rematch.

After the Hulk series ended, Bill Bixby wasn’t there to throw butter on the ceiling either. However, the actor, producer and director was well aware of the success that he continued to have in all parts of the world. So he got the rights to it and called his partner Lou to get back in the ring. Together they filmed three television movies: The return of the Incredible Hulk (1988), The trial of the Incredible Hulk (1989) years The death of the Incredible Hulk (1990). The idea was that they would be the starting point for a sixth season of the series, a project that was cut short when Bixby was diagnosed with prostate cancer.

Shortly before he died in 1993, the actor had finished approving the scripts for two new telefilms, The Rebirth of the Incredible Hulk -where the creature would finally speak, following the trend of the comics- and Revenge of the Incredible Hulkwhich would feature the appearance of Iron Man by Tom Selleck. The concept of the “talking Hulk”, closer to the comic, would be taken up from that moment on for future adaptations of the character. “Bill was a great person to work with, also a great director and producer. I remember him as someone very demanding, I remember once arriving late to the set, and he gave me a withering look, it seemed that he was going to transform into the Hulk. He was my mentor, I learned a lot from himFerrigno said.

Ferrigno kept the Hulk wig, reusing it in a couple of commercials that featured him as an image. Until now, his last recurring contact with the character was to give voice to the animated series made between 1996 and 1998. He then did it again for the saga of the Avengers.

The anecdote is a curiosity, since in the program those who were in charge of the grunts were Ted Cassidy (Largo de crazy addams) in the first two seasons, and Charles Napier (The silence of the inocents) in the others. Since then, Ferrigno dedicated himself to enjoying his fame, training figures such as Mickey Rourke, Chuck Norris or Michael Jackson, and traveling to different parts of the world; among them Argentina, where he faced, no less, than Martin Karadagian.

Although the closest memory of Lou Ferrigno in Buenos Aires is his frustrated participation in the 2000 edition of Fantabaires, the actor had already been in our country in full success of the series on two occasions: in 1979 and in 1981 (occasion in which he visited Mar del Plata) being the first, the most remembered for the bizarre.

Between October 6 and 28, 1979, Expo Pibe 79 was held at La Rural, and the Incredible Hulk was the guest star. At that time, the local credit in matters of struggle was Martín Karadagian, who together with Titans in the ringwas the other great attraction of the show.

in his book the great martinthe journalist Daniel Roncoli records the memories of the Armenian: “He was fashionable with the theme of the Incredible Hulk. I didn’t want to miss the opportunity: he was a bodybuilder, a big man, he was at the height of his popularity, so I wanted to challenge him. The journalists (Fernando) Niembro and (Marcelo) Araujo had brought him in as businessmen, and he made some shows of strength. I surprised him, Zurdo D’Artagnan, he started charging him and Ferrigno got angry, so I took advantage of the rudeness he had committed to go after me. He didn’t turn on, he didn’t understand well, he didn’t give me the pleasure, he didn’t dare to fight. I would have loved to fight him, I ate him raw”.

In the 24 hours he was in Argentina, the American preferred to make some shows of strength, break Styrofoam props and have lunch with Mirtha Legrand. Further back in time, Paulina, Martín’s daughter, also remembered that failed confrontation: “Lou Ferrigno came to Argentina. One of the things he was going to do was fight Dad. Something happened that he did not want to do, and they ended up putting some irons on the ring to show a mini training. For me he had cuiqui ”.

The most recent news around his name had to do with his health. In 2018, due to an adverse reaction to the pneumonia vaccine, the actor had to be hospitalized, with the consequent scare for his family, and especially for Carla Ferrigno, his partner for forty years.

Last year, the actor began to notice that he was practically deaf in his right ear. A series of studies revealed that the deterioration was progressive. The solution was a cochlear implant, consisting of the placement of an electronic device that allows hearing to be restored through the stimulation of the nerve endings.

After his work in The offerLou Ferrigno remains willing to return to being a star on the screen. There is no promising project on the horizon but who knows, the Marvel universe is expanding so fast that it costs nothing to give a little place to someone who was a fundamental part of its prehistory.

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