Louis Jude Ferrigno is an American actor, motivational speaker, fitness trainer/consultant, and retired professional bodybuilder. As a bodybuilder, Lou won an IFBB Mr. America title and two consecutive IFBB Mr. Universe titles, and appeared in the bodybuilding documentary Pumping Iron. As an actor, he is best known for portraying the title role in the CBS television series The Incredible Hulk. He has also appeared in several European-produced fantasy/adventure films such as Sinbad of the Seven Seas and Hercules. His most recent roles include a part in the 2009 feature film I Love You, Man and season five of the reality series Celebrity Apprentice.
Lou was born in Brooklyn, New York, to Victoria and Matty Ferrigno. His father was an Italian-American police lieutenant. Soon after he was born, Lou suffered a series of ear infections and lost 75% of his hearing (though his condition was not diagnosed until he was three years old). Undeterred by what some may have perceived as a disadvantage, Lou threw himself into athletics (predominantly weightlifting and bodybuilding).
Lou started weight training at age 13, citing bodybuilder and Hercules star Steve Reeves as one of his role models. He was also a fan of the Hercules films that starred Reeves and would later himself play Hercules. Lou’s other childhood heroes included Spider-Man and the Hulk. Lou attended St. Athanasius Grammar School and Brooklyn Technical High School, where he learned mechanical engineering.
Lou won his first major titles in 1973 – IFBB Mr. America and IFBB Mr. Universe – during which time he lived in Columbus, OH. Lou was only 21 when he won his first Mr. Universe title, a Guinness Book world record that stands to this day. In 1974, he came in second on his first attempt at the Mr. Olympia competition. He came in third the following year, which was documented in the 1975 documentary Pumping Iron.
Lou worked throughout his early bodybuilding career as a sheet metal worker in a Brooklyn factory. He did not enjoy the dangerous work, and left after a friend and co-worker accidentally cut off his hand. Following this, Lou left the competition circuit for many years, a period that included a brief stint as a defensive lineman for the Toronto Argonauts in the Canadian Football League. He had never played football and was cut after two games.
1977 brought the release of the now-iconic bodybuilding documentary, Pumping Iron, and the attention of television producer Kenneth Johnson (Six Million Dollar Man, The Bionic Woman, V, Alien Nation), who was seeking the right person to portray the larger-than-life comic book superhero, the Incredible Hulk. With his 6′ 5″, 285 lb. frame, Lou was the biggest professional bodybuilder at the time. He auditioned for the part of the green-skinned Goliath, winning the part over fellow bodybuilder, Arnold Schwarzenegger.
Lou was cast in the title role opposite Bill Bixby, who played his meek scientist/alter ego. Although Lou and Bixby did not share lines on camera (except for one episode, “King of the Beach”), the two were friends, with Lou describing Bixby as “a mentor and a father figure” who took Lou under his wing. Lou continued playing the Hulk role until 1981, although the last two episodes were not broadcast until May 1982. The Incredible Hulk was a huge ratings success and spawned several TV movies after the initial TV series completed its run
Lou continued to remain busy after the end of The Incredible Hulk. His subsequent films included Hercules (1983), Sinbad of the Seven Seas (1989), and Cage (1989).
In the early 1990s, Lou returned to bodybuilding, competing for the 1992 and 1993 Mr. Olympia titles. Finishing 12th and 10th, respectively, he then turned to the 1994 Masters Olympia, where his attempt to beat Robbie Robinson and Boyer Coe was the subject of the 1996 documentary, Stand Tall. After this, he retired from competition.
Lou’s most recent credits include guest appearances on the CBS sitcom The King of Queens, (beginning in 2000 and continuing until the program’s conclusion in 2007, where he and his wife Carla were depicted as the main characters next-door neighbors), Hulk (2003), The Incredible Hulk (2008), I Love You, Man (2009), The Avengers (2012), and Celebrity Apprentice: Season 5 (2012).
Most recently, he and his family started Ferrigno FIT – a community focused on positive habits, lifestyles, and ideas.