Then & now Lou Ferrigno, original Incredible Hulk
IN THE 1970s, TV viewers avidly followed the adventures of a handsome young scientist with serious anger management issues. Each week, Dr David Banner (played by the late Bill Bixby) would ominously warn some hapless bad guy: “Don’t make me angry. You wouldn’t like me when I’m angry.” Of course, we were happy when the baddie foolishly ignored the advice, because then Banner would turn into the real star of the show: the not-so-jolly green giant known as the Incredible Hulk.
If auditions for the role had turned out differently, it would have been champion bodybuilder Arnold Swarzenegger rampaging in green greasepaint across our screens each week; but Schwarzenegger was outsized by his rival bodybuilder Lou Ferrigno, and so the world had to wait a few more years for Arnie to pump his way into our consciousness.
Ferrigno may have been the world’s biggest bodybuilder at the time, but he had to overcome a severe disability to reach his peak of fitness. He has been using hearing aids since childhood, having lost nearly 80 per cent of his hearing soon after birth due to a series of undiagnosed infections. Growing up in Brooklyn, the son of an Italian-American cop, Ferrigno worshipped the actor and bodybuilder Steve Reeves, who starred as Hercules on the big screen. He started doing weights at 13 and by 21 he was the youngest holder of the Mr Universe title.
When Hulk burst the seams on his last shirt in 1982 (oddly, his pants never ripped during the transformation from mild-mannered scientist to green goliath), it wasn’t the end of Ferrigno’s association with the Marvel comic character. After the series ended, he and Bill Bixby starred in three made-for-TV Incredible Hulk movies, and in the 2000s he and his wife Carla played themselves as recurring characters in the TV sitcom the King Of Queens – allowing the show’s star Kevin James to make lots of lame Hulk jokes.
When Ang Lee was making his 2003 blockbuster The Hulk, Ferrigno was back on board – this time to lend his voice to the computer-generated character, even though he had never voiced the original Hulk. He also helped to voice the green-eyed monster in the 2008 movie The Incredible Hulk, and was back for a voiceover hat-trick on this year’s Avengers movie. He was also in the 2009 bromantic comedy I Love You, Man and in a series of the US version of Celebrity Apprentice. But his most unusual recent role has been as a real-life sheriff’s deputy in Arizona.