It’s part of the price of a lifetime of heavy gym work, the pumping of iron that turned Lou Ferrigno into a world champion bodybuilder and, ultimately, into The Incredible Hulk.
Turns out, even superheroes, or at least those who play them, are subject to the aches and pains that come with age.
Ferrigno, 67, the man who was made famous by playing the green, muscled giant on television in the late 1970s and early ‘80s – and later voicing him on the big screen – was in Cayman this week seeking treatment that he hopes will allow him to continue to work out and to train others in the gym. It’s a treatment not available in many places.
The actor received an infusion of stem cells at the Da Vinci Centre. The treatment is designed to target inflamed body tissues and repair them. Although some stem cell procedures are available in the United States – Ferrigno lives in California – this particular method is not approved there, officials at the centre said.
“I had other friends who came here and had terrific results,” Ferrigno said Wednesday, while relaxing in a waiting room after undergoing a three-hour infusion of approximately 300 million stem cells grown in a U.S. lab from donated umbilical cord tissue.
One of the friends Ferrigno mentioned by name was fellow bodybuilder David Lyons, who received treatment at the Da Vinci Centre a little over a year ago. The centre cites Lyons, who has multiple sclerosis, as one of its success stories.
Dr. Louis Cona, medical director of the clinic, said he and his staff are doing groundbreaking work that contributes to Cayman’s medical tourism industry.
“Cayman is way ahead globally, [compared to] the U.S.,” Cona said, adding that the methods being used here have not yet been approved in the States. That does not mean he and his colleagues are shooting from the hip, he said.
“One of our biggest attributes,” he said, referring to medicine in Cayman, “is we’re highly regulated”.
Ferrigno was more hopeful about what the treatment could do for him.
“I wouldn’t come all the way from California if I didn’t believe in them,” he said. “I’m a very active person. I don’t want to slow down.”
This is the actor’s first time in Cayman.
“I love it,” he said, adding that he would like to return in the future and bring his wife.
Ferrigno no longer competes as a bodybuilder, but he still spends plenty of time in the gym, works as a personal trainer to a limited clientele, continues to act (he has three movies in production) and also spends time as a volunteer sheriff in San Luis Obispo County on California’s central coast, where he lives.
His original pursuit of bodybuilding came out of being picked on as a kid. A severe ear infection at a young age left him nearly deaf. As a result, his speech was significantly impaired. For a time, he said, he would practise speaking with marbles in his mouth to try to improve his diction.
At age 12, he began pumping iron or, rather, cement.
“Friends of mine down the street had weights,” he said, “but I couldn’t afford it. We didn’t have anything. I made my own barbells”.
He cast a set using wet cement and a broomstick for the barbell.
It was an austere beginning. Nine years later, he won his first Mr. America title in bodybuilding. Later the same year, 1973, he won the first of back-to-back titles in the Mr. Universe contest. He was featured, along with Arnold Schwarzenegger in the 1977 documentary ‘Pumping Iron’. That led to Ferrigno being cast in the television series ‘The Incredible Hulk’, which ran for five seasons, from 1978 to 1982.
Since then, he’s appeared in a slew of television and movie roles, either physically or vocally (he’s been the voice of the computer-generated Hulk in recent Marvel movies).
The wear and tear on his body from years of lifting weights has left him with artificial joints in both knees and both hips. But arthritis and other age-related ailments are catching up with him. The stem cell infusion he got here, he believes, will help keep him going.
“I want to continue to do action films,” he said. With the treatment, “I’ll be able to endure all the fighting and filming.”
“Most people in their 60s, they start refraining from activities they used to do,” he added. “I want to keep working out till the day I die.”