20 Years Ago This Month – A Special Goodbye to Steve
A Day of Celebrating an Extraordinary Life
The private Reeves memorial and funeral service occurred at the McLeod Mortuary Chapel in Escondido, CA on Saturday, May 6, 2000. This was an invitation only service for about 100 special guests; people who crossed Steve’s path via family, fitness, entertainment, journalism, or just close friendships. Russ Warner, Leo Stern, Joe Weider, Lou Ferrigno, Gene Mozee, George Coates, Reg Lewis, Richard Harrison, and Reeves’ official biographer, Milton T. Moore, were just some of Steve’s closest friends who came to pay their final respects.
Regrets on not being able to attend came from friends Sly Stallone, Bo Derek, Gordon Scott, Robert Wagner, John Little, Armand Tanny, Gordon Mitchell among others.
In addition to coverage by a local San Diego TV station, a recap of the service was later published in “Flex”, “Ironman”, and “Muscle and Fitness” magazines, in addition to Steve’s hometown newspaper, “Valley Roadrunner Newspaper”.
McLeod Mortuary Chapel in Escondido, CA
The Memories on Display
The Service - May 6, 2000
The beautiful service began at 3:30 p.m. with Hank Williams' I'm So Lonesome I Could Cry and ended with the Chordetts' Mr. Sandman, two of Steve's favorite songs. Conducting the service was Rev. Richard Huls from Valley Center, Steve's hometown at the time. Today Rev Huls is pastor emeritus of the Christian Reformed Church in Escondido, chaplain to the Escondido Police and Fire Departments, and voice of the Dial-A-Prayer ministry.
Reverend Richard Huls
Rev. Huls Eulogy:
Rev. Huls' tribute to Steve was very warm, thoughtful, and certainly quite touching.
"Good afternoon. We’re here today to honor a man who was bigger than life.
"For most of us, our introduction to Steve Reeves was movies, a character known as Hercules: half man, half god. Looking at his pictures here, it hurts all of us I’m sure. But even more so, the unexpected death of Steve brought so many of you a relationship that is extremely meaningful. I wish to express my condolences to family members, friends, and to all of you who have come here to share today.
I understand that Steve was a very humble man, he didn’t tell people how humble he was, and I want you all to know that it humbles me to be here. I am a resident of Escondido and Valley Center. Our paths never crossed. But simply as a member of the community, I can appreciate how a service like this can humble anyone. And as we all join together, I’m sure this is how he would have wanted it, not to somehow make him more than what he was, but simply recognize that he was a member of the community as much as he was a star. We join together today to remember him, pay our respects to him, and recognize the qualities of his life that all of us in many ways vie for in ourselves. And hopefully, we have already taken some of those.
"I’d like to pause, as Steve often did, for a word of prayer. Pray for God’s company and strength. 'Our father in heaven we pause here, to think of a man you gave life to, who went through many experiences in life, not without trials and tribulations but certainly with successes and recognition. A man who not only was able to achieve but wanted to achieve on behalf of others and to enable them to become achievers as well. We want the very best for the body you have given and for the spirit that makes it possible for us to be people of success. We are thankful for those who have come to join together this afternoon and as we bow in prayer we would ask that your peace will rule over all of us in the name of our Lord we pray.
"I’d like to begin today with a poem that Steve wrote. I think it’s commendable that one would reflect upon his own life and his mortality and the conclusion of his life.
When my days on earth are over, With my faithful dogs by my side, I will ride through new deep clover On a horse called Classic Pride. They have been my true companions, Along mountain trails and rivers wide, My friends will look at me with envy When we cross the great divide.
"I’m sure that Steve didn’t know that when he wrote this poem when the crossing of that great divide would take place. But as it has happened, he recognized some aspects of his life. He highlighted them. His date of birth Jan 21, 1926, born in Montana, and it is my understanding that his remains will go there. He died May 1, the year 2000. Steve was 74 years old. And, as so many of you know, his death was totally unexpected.
"It is I think worthy of those of you who knew him to say a few words about him. Certainly from my perspective, it could only be secondhand. But many of you knew him perhaps more directly. Sometime or other he touched you, maybe as a neighbor or as a friend. But one whose life found meaning in a meaningful relationship. There are really two ways to look at that. As you look at these pictures, here's a man who lived in Valley Center for 43 years. Much of his life is due to the fact that people who touched him said things to him, shared time with him and rejoiced with him, found things meaningful just as your lives were touched by him. But his life was really arepresentation of your lives; and your lives in many ways are a representation of his. This is the time when I would like to ask any of you to say a few words."
Many heartfelt tributes were then given about Steve. We've included a few here from people who knew Steve for many years.
Actor Richard Harrison:
"I’ve been a friend of Steve’s since 1955. When I first met Steve I was a manager in a gymnasium for Vic Tanny. Steve had just come back from New York City about the time he was in the film 'Athena'. He stayed with me at my place, and we got along very well. It was a time when his career as an actor wasn’t going too well so I introduced him to friends of mine who owned gyms and he went to work for them. Then, thank God, he got the part of 'Hercules' in Italy. Very soon afterward, I was under contract for a couple of studios and I went to Italy and joined him. We had a wonderful time together in Spain, Italy, and Malaysia and all over in films.
"Many people would say it’s true that if you looked in the dictionary under perfection the first definition you'd expect to see is Steve Reeves. He definitely was the most handsome and developed adult man who was ever born. Probably it would take a laboratory to make another one like him. But Steve was much more than that. I think his main thing in life was living. He loved to do many things.
"When he worked out in a gym, he didn't talk much about working out. He did what he had to do because it was his job. He did win Mr. America and Mr. Universe. He was paid as an actor and he did a very good job as an actor too. But he never once wanted to talk about bodybuilding. He knew his body very well; he knew it like a doctor. He would work out just like a doctor, moving every little muscle, but he never wanted to show off in any way. He was incredibly strong by the way. I've heard people in the past say, "Well he couldn't be very strong with a beautiful body like that" He was incredibly strong. I remember in the gym when he and Gordon Scott would work out they would take 120 pounds in each hand and do 20 reps at a time. Steve would do everything perfect without any exertion whatsoever.
"I never heard Steve once say a bad word about anybody. He was a very private person, and he didn't talk a lot either. He was extremely intelligent, didn't like to waste words and didn't like to hear stupid words either. He was a beautiful human being.
"I am so thankful that Steve came into my life because like everybody else, he was my hero and Iwas so proud to be his friend. I was also so proud to know so many of the people that were friends of his. I'm going to miss him very much. But I'll tell you one thing, he's going to be here forever because there was only one living god that I ever met and that was Steve Reeves. He'll be around for a long time for all of us to admire. Thank you."
Writer Gene Mozee:
"I am a long-time friend of Steve's, and I was proud to have known him for many, many years. I first read about him in a copy of Joe Weider's magazines 'Muscle Power' and 'Your Physique' in 1950.
"When I was 16 years old, one day my brother and I journeyed down to Muscle Beach on the bus and the first person we looked for was Steve Reeves. We went up and approached him and he was so kind to us and treated us like his little brothers. I had this relationship with him ever since that day. I've called his home on occasions and he was always pleasant to talk to. He would remember my family always asking how my brother and mother were. He was just the greatest human being that anyone could meet.
"As a bodybuilder he was unmatched. Michelangelo once made a drawing of what he considered to be the perfect human being: so many cubits tall, so many hands wide and exact proportions. David P. Willoughby, one of the experts in the field of bodybuilding, found that Steve's measurements were almost identical to the depiction of the perfect man by Michelangelo.
"Not only was Steve perfect physically, but I never met a man who was more thoughtful. I never heard him utter a negative word against anyone. He was always grateful for his success and very modest. If you started to compliment him, he'd stop you if you went too far, but he appreciated your compliment. He was not a man who had an actor's ego. Steve was a man who knew who he was and what he was. I don't know if he really understood how much he meant to the world. In my three gyms, Steve Reeves was always the man whose picture was in the place of honor. He was always the hero of our gyms because he was like the King of the Spartans, Leonidas, who lead the 300 Spartans against 30,000 Persians. Steve Reeves was every bit the great man that all of you knew.
"I want everyone to know that Steve Reeves was a man who would give his time and help people. For a couple of unknown kids, like my brother and me to walk up to a big superstar like Steve and for him immediately to be so kind, so generous with his time and become life-long friends it says it all. I don"t know of an actor or a bodybuilder in the world today you could walk up to and become instant friends. Steve was that type of man. He was the greatest man I ever met. Thank you."
Publisher Joe Weider:
"I have been a friend of Steve Reeves since 1947. This was when he first corresponded with us and he came to Montreal to have photographs taken after his Mr. America title. We all know from what everybody has said here today what a wonderful human being he was.
"Steve Reeves was one of the first models that made the world see the human body: what it is and what it could accomplish. He helped to start a whole physical movement that changed the world by his example as a human being and as a physical specimen. Nobody approached him at that time, and he influenced everybody through his character and personality. With his great body and great face, he was almost like a Greek god. The combination of his looks and character made him so startling.
"But most important, he was like the boy next door. With all these characteristics, he inspired me in my business and millions of people throughout the world to be great. It was because of him that the world has changed to a physical way of thinking about the human being. I and hundreds of millions of people throughout the world knew him, loved him and admired him. He has been a great inspiration, and he will remain a great inspiration as long as physical fitness and the love of the human body character remains. Thank you”.
Closing Thoughts by Rev. Huls:
Following the tributes that afternoon, Rev. Huls finished the service with these touching words about Steve:
"How does one summarize a man's life: a man like Steve Reeves. We've heard so many things here today. I would like to try, in a humble way, to bring into focus something that I always ask when I'm asked to do a service, especially for a person I don't really know. I ask if an individual has been religious or been to church or some aspect of that. Being a Pastor you like to know those things.
"I'm sure these words from the Book of Corinthians were meant for Steve Reeves. 'Do you know that you are a temple of God or that your body is a temple of God in his spirit and that the spirit of God dwells in you? If any man destroys the temple of God, God will destroy him. But the temple of God is holy and that is what you are.
"As we're here this afternoon, we think of Steve Reeves. I'm sure many of you have seen young people walking down the street with weights in their hands doing powerwalking. The inspiration for that kind of Powerwalking came from Steve Reeves. He was a person who enriched an appreciation, as we've heard, for bodybuilding. But more than that, bodybuilding that was drug-free and done just on the merits of one's capabilities.
"I especially find a sentiment here today because of Steve's service in the Army. He was involved in combat in the Philippines and in the occupational forces of Japan after the war. But for all of us, as we take a look at these scripture passages here today, we would say that Steve surely was a spiritual man. He regarded the body as a gift of God, to be taken care of, to be enriched, to be recognized, not flattered but honored. For each of us here today, we humbly can say thank you to this man. That understood, this is what Paul meant when he wrote these words: 'Do you not know that your body was the temple of God?' Perhaps in some strange way, even ironical, the figure of Steve Reeves was a definition of these words: That the body, physical as we well know, has a time on this earth. Let the spirit dwell within. May God give to him all that he ever wanted to be as he was on this earth and for all eternity.
"In conclusion today, I was very gratified to have heard this expression of Steve Reeves. 'He was a man who was what he said he believed.' And that is something that all of us can well imitate and emulate in our lives. Thank you all for coming today".
Following Rev. Huls' kind words, Steve's second cousin Gordon Reeves, was then presented with the U.S. flag in honor of Steve's military service. It was a touching moment to end a beautiful service.
A Gathering of Friends
After the service, many people gathered outside the chapel to reminisce about Steve as well as renew some old acquaintances. This is what Steve would have wanted.
Deborah Stewart and Russ Warner
Gene Mozee, Russ Warner, and George Helmer
Bob Delmonteque, Lou Ferrigno, Betty Weider, Unknown, and Joe Weider
The service was followed by a lovely luncheon at the impressive Lawrence Welk Country Club in Escondido, CA. Special thanks to Deborah Stewart for putting on such a wonderful reception for all.
Lawrence Welk Country Club in Escondido
It’s hard to believe that 20 years have passed since Steve departed for the Heavenly skies. It was a very tough time back then for many people. But I feel comforted today because I have faith that Steve is enjoying the rewards that he so deserves.
I knew Steve for almost 15 years. He was a good friend, mentor and business partner who trusted me with his image to protect it. I always respected his ideas and looked to him many times for words of advice and encouragement and tried to do the best I could. Steve was always generous with his time and made my job that much easier.
A day won't go by when we won't think of Steve. Moreover, we will always consider him a true legend and an exceptional human being that did exceptional things during an exceptional lifetime. Yes, Steve you were truly one of a kind, and we thank you for letting us be a part of your unique world. We wish you continued rest and peace.
George Helmer, President, Steve Reeves International