Saturday, March 12, 2011

R.I.P Dennis Tinerino, my long time friend

I just found out about the death of Dennis Tinerino from cancer at age  64. Dennis would have turned 65 in December. He was a well-known bodybuilder, having won the Mr.America title in 1967, followed by a second place finish to an up and coming competitor named Arnold Schwarzenegger in the 1967 NABBA Mr.Universe, amateur division. The following year, he won the Mr.Universe title. Besides these contests, Dennis won numerous other professional and amateur bodybuilding titles. I had the honor of knowing Dennis not just as a great bodybuilder, but also as a great person. I met him around 1965. I was living in Brooklyn, New York at the time, and was an avid bodybuilder. Dennis had grown up in Brooklyn in a neighborhood called Canarsie, and I would see him from time to time around my neighborhood. He would regale me with his tales of training in California with such greats as Bill Pearl and Chris Dickerson, which inspired an early goal for myself to eventually move to California. But in the meantime, I would often train with Dennis at the Brooklyn Central YMCA. He would show up there after work, and during the Winter, he would often wear a massive overcoat to fit his extremely wide shoulder width. I recall seeing him once emerging from Nathan’s restaurant in Coney Island, Brooklyn. It was just one week before the 1966 Mr.USA contest, yet here was Dennis with a very attractive girl on his arm, while he was eating one of Nathan’s world famous hot dogs, along with a greasy bag of french fries so drenched in cooking oil that the bag he was holding looked soaked. I was amazed that he would be eating this way just a week before a major contest. But Dennis proved that there was method in his madness, as he won the USA, defeating such formidable competitors as Boyer Coe and Jim Haislop, both of whom went on to win the Mr.America contest.  On a sunny June day in 1967, I rode the B-train subway to the last stop in Coney Island, and the subway platform was deserted. But then another train pulled in, and out emerged Dennis. I knew the Mr.America contest had been held just two days earlier, and asked him how he placed in the show.”I won,”he proudly told me. It was just me and Dennis standing alone on a usually crowded subway platform, which somehow seemed appropriate for the occasion. When he returned from London after placing second to Arnold in the Mr.Universe,I asked him his thoughts on that.” Arnold is just a big, beefy guy. I should have won because I had better symmetry and was in far better shape than he was. But when he gets cut, watch out!,” he presciently told me.

On another occasion, I found out the address in Astoria, Queens of where Dennis trained with one his mentors, Mr.America and Mr.Universe 1962, Joe Abbenda. Joe had a garage in the back of his home, where he and Dennis hoisted some heavy iron. I showed up at Joe’s house early, before either Abbenda or Dennis had yet arrived.I was greeted at the door by a small older Italian couple, who turned out to be Joe’s parents. Note that while I was good friends with Dennis, I had never met nor even spoken with Joe Abbenda, much less his parents. At first, they were taken aback by this strange kid wearing a loose, somewhat pungent sweatsuit at their door. But as soon as I mentioned that I was a friend of Dennis, their faces brightened, and they invited me in to join them for supper. Not long afterward, as I was seated at the dinner table with Joe Abbenda’s parents, Joe showed up. I’ll never forgot the look of consternation on his face as he viewed me sitting there with his mother and father. Before he could say anything,however, Joe’s mom identified me as “one of Dennis’ friends.” Joe Abbenda’s face relaxed at bit, but he still viewed me with some suspicion, which under the circumstances, was well deserved. Minutes later, Dennis showed up in his signature overcoat, and as usual, greeted me warmly, then introduced me formally to Joe. We all then proceeded to the garage for a workout. I was too intimidated to train with Joe and Dennis, and frankly, couldn’t have kept up with them anyway, so I just watched these two muscular marvels hit the weights.

Not long ago, I received a photo of Dennis’ wife, Anita, posed with her two daughters, both of whom were beautiful. I could only marvel at the older daughter, since she was now an adult, and the last time I saw her, she was crawling on the floor in Dennis and Anita’s apartment 30 years earlier. Dennis used to talk about his dark side, about the criminal activities that he participated in his youth. I wasn’t privy to this aspect of Dennis’ life, but knew him as just a big, genial guy who was always helpful and friendly to me. A few years ago, Dennis asked me to update his training courses, which he wanted to market again. Since he won most of his titles without using drugs, such as anabolic steroids, he thought that many bodybuilders would be interested in how he built his body naturally. Sadly, this revision of his courses never transpired. I always meant to get back to Dennis about them, but it just didn’t happen. I can tell you that few people that I’ve met in bodybuilding had the joyous and fun personality of Dennis Tinerino. He was a big guy with a big heart, and I will miss him.