Jim Morris RIP: A Tribute to the Vegan Legend

A few days ago the vegan bodybuilding world lost an icon and a true gentleman.

Jim Morris, a former Mr. Universe who competed alongside Arnold Schwarzenegger, would have celebrated his 81st birthday this August if he hadn’t sadly passed away last Friday at his home in Venice, California. A softly-spoken and humble man, Jim will be sorely missed by his legion of fans in the bodybuilding, fitness and vegan worlds.

A lifelong bodybuilder, Jim switched to a vegetarian diet at age 50 and 15 years later adopted a completely vegan diet for the health benefits and for ethical reasons. He credited his vegan diet for his excellent health and fitness and his famous age-defying physique. Becoming vegan totally transformed Jim’s health:

"At one point I was getting cortisone injections directly into both elbows every week. The arthritis kept me awake at night. Since becoming vegan all my health problems have completely disappeared. Most miraculously, after wearing eyeglasses for 35 years, my sight improved to where I only wear them on rare occasion for extremely small print. I no longer take any medication. I do take a weekly injection of testosterone* and vitamin B12. My yearly checkups are perfect."

In a bodybuilding career spanning several decades, Jim won at least 29 titles, owned a gym, modelled, was a personal trainer to many celebrities, and was even a bodyguard for Elton John for 15 years. He’s set several bodybuilding records that still stand.

“Milk is for babies. Humans as far as I know, are the only creatures that continue to drink milk once they’ve been weaned. And then, we drink milk that’s been formulated for another creature! I think people don’t realise if they would stop drinking milk and all of the milk products they would say “Wow! I didn’t know I would feel this good!”’

Jim Morris was a true pioneer in the sport of bodybuilding. He's pictured above with Arnold Schwarzenegger and Franco Columbu on the left. 

But his journey was even harder than his peers growing up in a world with greater prejudice than today's word. In a world where being openly gay and African-American often meant being completely ostracised, the media didn't give him the recognition he deserved.

At 37 years old after training for 18 years his impressive physique comfortably won the Mr. America contest with a margin of 35 points whilst setting three records: the largest winning point margin; the only openly-gay person to win, and the oldest person to win.

When he stood up on stage, in what should have been his proudest moment after years of hard work, instead of cheering, the crowd booed. None of the bodybuilding magazines used him on their front cover and some wouldn't even mention his name. It was to be one of the worst moments of Jim's life.

But instead of giving up he used this horrible experience as fuel to help him continue his training and drive to overturn stereotypes of those who are oppressed.

This feeling of caring for the oppressed later naturally lead Jim at age 50 to adopt a vegetarian diet a in order to avoid the needless suffering of animals. Later at age 65 he transitioned to a completely vegan diet, while still continuing working out and training clients.

“The protein in animal products is so laden with fats and chemicals and all sorts of stuff that’s harmful to you. When I was competing and stuffing down all of that sort of stuff, I had lots of digestive problems. I know as a fact I would not be here and I would not be in this condition now had I continued eating the way I was.”

“My daily schedule is a reflection of living as close to my beliefs as I can and still function with a certain amount of comfort in our society”

Jim Morris with Arnold Schwarzenegger and other notable bodybuilding pioneers.

“I believe that all creatures are born with the inalienable right to live their own life in their own way in their own environment making their own decisions. I believe we are all equal.”

“Most people have a problem becoming a vegan or stopping eating meat but because of how I want to live in this world and because of how I want to treat other creatures I have to be a vegan. In order for me to eat meat, I would have to change all my other beliefs.”

His typical bodybuilding routine looked like this:

Waking up at 3am and working out from 4-5am at Gold's Gym in Venice, CA.

Split routine:

Sunday and Thursday

  • Legs. 
  • 5 or 6 sets of some sort of squatting or leg press movement
  • 5 or 6 sets of thigh extensions

Monday and Friday

  • 5 sets of lat pulldowns
  • 5 sets of cable flys
  • 5 sets of dipping machine

Tuesday and Saturday

  • 5 sets of dumbbell side laterals 
  • 5 sets of forward laterals on low pulley
  • 5 sets triceps pushdown on high pulley
  • 5 sets straight dumbbell curls

Wednesday: rest day

In March 2011 at age 75 a short documentary-film starring Jim Morris titled "Jim Morris: Lifelong Fitness" was released on YouTube. The film focuses on his life long bodybuilding career, vegan lifestyle and Morris' yearning to break stereotypes attached to the elderly.

At 77 years old he produced a video for PETA showing off his amazing physique and sharing his reasons for going vegan.

Jim Morris is an awe-inspiring example on how life on a healthful plant-based diet can sustain your physical, mental, and emotional health far beyond what is considered "normal" in our Western societies, where detrimental health and common diseases are often seen as inevitable byproducts of older age.

Jim proved that you can reach and exceed your own goals with unfaltering dedication to the right lifestyle choices, and by closely monitoring the signs from your own body, and he proved old-age doesn't have to mean becoming inactive.

Many studies have shown that vegetarians and vegans live, on average, six to 10 years longer than meat-eaters and that they’re less likely to suffer from common, chronic illnesses. This is due to a myriad of factors including avoiding the harmful compounds found in meat, eggs and dairy and consuming much more fresh fruit and vegetables with their protective phytonutrients.

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