Who Is Arnold Schwarzenegger?

Austrian-born Arnold Schwarzenegger rose to fame as the world’s top bodybuilder, launching a career that would make him a giant Hollywood star in the 1980s via films like Conan the Barbarian, The Terminator, and Total Recall. After years of blockbuster movie roles, Schwarzenegger went into politics, serving as governor of California from 2003 to 2011. Since leaving office, he has returned to the big screen, finding success with The Expendables franchise and a return to the Terminator series.

Quick Facts

FULL NAME: Arnold Alois Schwarzenegger
BORN: July 30, 1947
BIRTHPLACE: Thal, Austria
SPOUSE: Maria Shriver (1986-2021)
CHILDREN: Katherine, Christina, Patrick, Christopher, and Joseph

Early Years

Arnold Alois Schwarzenegger was born on July 30, 1947, in Thal, Austria, near the city of Graz. Schwarzenegger’s childhood was far from ideal. His father, Gustav, was an alcoholic police chief and one-time member of the Nazi Party, who clearly favored Arnold’s brother, Meinhard, over his gangly, seemingly less athletic younger son.

aurelia and gustav schwarzenegger posing for a photograph

Arnold Schwarzenegger’s parents, Aurelia and Gustav Schwarzenegger, in 1965 in Thal, Austria
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Gustav is reported to have beaten and intimidated Schwarzenegger and, when he could, pitted his two boys against one another. He also ridiculed Schwarzenegger’s early dreams of becoming a bodybuilder. “It was a very uptight feeling at home,” Schwarzenegger later recalled. So uptight and uncomfortable, in fact, that Schwarzenegger would later refuse to attend the funeral of his father, who died in 1972, or his brother, who was killed in a car crash in 1971.

Arnold was much closer to his mother, Aurelia, who resided in Austria throughout her life and was active in local wildlife programs. She died of a heart attack at age 76 in August 1998. “With the loss of my mother, my world has fallen apart,” Schwarzenegger said at the time.

Bodybuilding Champion

As an escape, Schwarzenegger turned to the movies, in particular those of Reg Park, a bodybuilder and star in B-level Hercules movies. The films also helped propel Schwarzenegger’s own obsession with America, and the future he felt awaited him there. Getting to his new country was the issue. Schwarzenegger found his answer in Joe Weider, the man behind the International Federation of Body Building, an organization that sponsored contests such Mr. Universe and Mr. Olympia.

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Weider loved Schwarzenegger’s bravado, sense of humor, and the potential he saw in the young bodybuilder. Weider’s instincts couldn’t have been more dead-on. In all, Schwarzenegger would win an unprecedented five Mr. Universe titles and seven Mr. Olympia crowns during his bodybuilding career.

arnold schwarzenegger lies down with one leg extended and the other with his knee bent and foot on the ground, he wears short shorts and no other clothing and looks at the camera with a seductive look on his face

Arnold Schwarzenegger in 1976
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Equally significant, Schwarzenegger, who immigrated to the United States in 1968, helped propel the sport into the mainstream, culminating in the 1977 documentary, Pumping Iron, which tells the tale of Schwarzenegger’s defense of his Mr. Olympia crown. He became a U.S. citizen in 1983.

Action Star: “Conan,” “The Terminator,” “Total Recall” and Beyond

With his ascension to the top of the bodybuilding world, it was only a matter of time before Schwarzenegger would move over to the big screen. After a few small parts, Schwarzenegger received a Golden Globe Award for Best Newcomer for his performance in Stay Hungry (1976).

With his immense physical strength and size, Schwarzenegger was a natural for action films. He became a leading figure in several popular 1980s action movies, including Conan the Barbarian (1982) and its sequel, Conan the Destroyer (1984). Schwarzenegger also starred as a deadly machine from the future in The Terminator (1984), and later reprised the role for Terminator 2: Judgment Day (1991) and Terminator 3: Rise of the Machines (2003).

Additional action flicks from the actor’s heyday include Commando (1985), Predator (1987), The Running Man (1987), Total Recall (1990), and True Lies (1994). He also used his oversized physique to comedic effect in Twins (1988) and Kindergarten Cop (1990).

Wife and Children

Offscreen, Schwarzenegger continued his remarkable story, marrying into the Kennedy family in 1986 by tying the knot with Maria Owings Shriver, daughter of Eunice Kennedy Shriver and her husband R. Sargent Shriver. According to People, a mutual friend introduced the two at a tennis tournament in 1977. They began dating shortly after, and Schwarzenegger proposed eight years into their relationship.

In May 2011, the couple announced their decision to separate, after Schwarzenegger’s acknowledgment that he fathered a son, Joseph Baena, with Mildred Baena, a member of the family’s household staff. Schwarzenegger and Shriver finalized their divorced in 2021.

Schwarzenegger and Shriver have four children: Katherine, Christina, Patrick, and Christopher. Patrick followed his dad into the acting business, appearing in several films as a child before taking a leading role in the 2018 teen tear-jerker Midnight Sun.

Governor of California

arnold schwarzenegger has one hand raised in the air and another resting on a book held by wife maria shriver during his swearing in ceremony to become california governor, the judge performing the ceremony is on the right

Arnold Schwarzenegger, with wife Maria Shriver, is sworn-in as the 38th governor of California during a ceremony in Sacramento on November 17, 2003.
Getty Images

In 2003, Schwarzenegger again showed his resolve to succeed when he threw his hat into the ring for the California governor’s race and won a seat in a special election. In a state that was mired in severe budget woes, the newly elected Republican governor promised to bring economic stability to his adopted state.

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As expected, Schwarzenegger brought his own unique brand of confidence to his new job. “If they don’t have the guts, I call them ‘girlie-men,’” he said of Democrats, early in his first term. “They should go back to the table and fix the budget.”

In addition to focusing on the state’s financial situation, Governor Schwarzenegger worked to promote new businesses and protect the environment. In 2006, he easily won his bid for reelection. Throughout his political career, Schwarzenegger credited former U.S. President Ronald Reagan as a personal inspiration. Remembering his early years in the United States, Schwarzenegger once said: “I became a citizen of the United States when [Reagan] was president, and he is the first president I voted for as an American citizen. He inspired me and made me even prouder to be a new American.”

His second term in office did not run as smoothly, however, as Schwarzenegger struggled to help the state through difficult financial times. After leaving office in January 2011, he sought to revive his career in the entertainment industry. In March of that year, Schwarzenegger announced plans to work with famed comic book creator Stan Lee on a new animated series inspired by his time in office.

Return to Hollywood: “The Expendables” and “Terminator” Sequels

In 2010, Schwarzenegger appeared alongside Sylvester Stallone, Jason Statham, Jet Li, and Bruce Willis in the ensemble action film The Expendables. In August 2012, he reunited with the cast for The Expendables 2. Just one week after the sequel’s premiere, it had climbed to the No. 1 spot at the box office, bringing in nearly $28.6 million.

Schwarzenegger made headlines again later in 2012, when he admitted for the first time to having an affair with his Red Sonja co-star Brigitte Nielsen in the mid-1980s, while he was dating and living with Maria Shriver. Nielsen had written about the adulterous relationship in her 2011 memoir, You Only Get One Life, but Schwarzenegger didn’t publicly confirm Nielsen’s account until the fall of 2012, when his memoir, Total Recall, was published.

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Continuing with his acting career, Schwarzenegger rejoined Stallone for The Expendables 3 in 2014. The following year, he returned to the film franchise that made him a star with Terminator Genisys.

In January 2017, Schwarzenegger replaced incoming U.S. President Donald Trump as host of NBC’s reality show The New Celebrity Apprentice, produced by Mark Burnett. However, the show stumbled to low ratings, and within a few months, the actor announced that he would not return.

That year, Schwarzenegger revealed that he was involved with a new Terminator film in the works. With the announcement that original costar Linda Hamilton was also returning, buzz built ahead of the fall 2019 release of Terminator: Dark Fate, though the big budget film ultimately disappointed with its opening weekend performance at the box office.

TV Shows

Most recently, Schwarzenegger has taken his acting career to the small screen, beginning with Stan Lee’s Superhero Kindergarten. The family-friendly cartoon, which released its first season in 2021, featured Schwarzenegger as Arnold Armstrong and Captain Courage. He also produced the show.

In 2023, Schwarzenegger headlined the Netflix series FUBAR about a father-daughter CIA duo. It quickly became the streaming platform’s No. 1 TV show, despite middling reviews from critics.

Health Problems

Schwarzenegger endured a health scare while undergoing surgery for a catheter valve replacement at a Los Angeles hospital in March 2018. The valve replacement failed, resulting in emergency open-heart surgery that proved successful. According to his spokesman, Schwarzenegger was soon in stable condition, reportedly waking up with the words “I’m back,” in a nod to his famous Terminator character.

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