R.I.P.ped

Even former Mr. America Mike Scarcella wasn't strong enough to beat the horrors of GHB addiction

She watched them stuff him into the backseat of a squad car, all 240 pounds of him. He looked like a sad child who had lost his way. "Why are you letting them take me?" he asked her. But it was out of her hands now. Exhausted, she went home, took a sleeping pill and tried not to think about how things had gone so terribly wrong.

Scarcella had dedicated his life to health and fitness--dieting, weight and cardio training, posing--measuring every aspect of his existence like some sort of body chemist. But somewhere along the way, from West Virginia farm boy to admired Mr. America to high-priced personal trainer, he lost the discipline that made his life make sense. Whether that was caused by GHB, steroids or a fundamental insecurity that made him overcompensate on the outside for what was missing on the inside, his story was far too common in the world of bodybuilding. "I knew guys who would take horse piss and inject it into their bodies if they thought it could make them bigger," says one former bodybuilder.

It took 14 hours of sleep and the repeated ringing of her phone to stir Martin. Chad Marr, Scarcella's favorite training partner, was on the line. "Are you OK?" he asked.

When 5-year-old Brock reached up to touch his father's portrait at his funeral, those in attendance were reduced to tears.
When 5-year-old Brock reached up to touch his father's portrait at his funeral, those in attendance were reduced to tears.

"Just tired."

"Oh, then you don't know."

"Know what?"

"Mike passed away last night."


Scarcella used to woo his women, of whom there were many, with tales of his childhood and the timidity that drove him to become a bodybuilder. Raised by adoring grandparents on a farm in West Virginia, Scarcella hardly knew his mother, a model intoxicated by barbiturates and the limelight of Hollywood. Overdosing on downers, she died when Scarcella was 5. He never met his father, whose identity remained a mystery and "the source of much of his mental anguish," says his uncle John Scarcella, who recalls his nephew as "a skinny little runt of a kid." But after being hoisted on a flagpole by some schoolyard bullies, Scarcella decided to do something about it.

Never much of a student, perhaps even dyslexic, there was one book that he read when he was 13 that became his bible: Education of a Bodybuilder by Arnold Schwarzenegger. "Somehow it struck a nerve with him and changed his life," his uncle says. His grandfather bought him a set of weights, and he worked out in the barn. Some nights it was so cold, his hands would stick to the bar, but within a year, his body put on bulk. In high school, he became a success at looking good, enjoying the narcissistic rush that came from girls taking second glances and boys acting envious. He was still a humble guy, but even at that age, what he wanted most in life was to become Mr. America.

Eventually he joined a gym in a nearby town and began to work out every day after school. He never cared about going to college; training with power lifters and several Mr. West Virginias was all the education he needed. At 19, he was thrilled when he bench-pressed 405 pounds. Bodybuilding became his addiction, getting bigger the reason for his existence.

Although Scarcella never thought he was tall enough--he was 5-foot-7--or his legs big enough, he was a natural for the sport. "He was genetically gifted," says Bob Gruskin, president of the National Amateur Bodybuilders Association. "He had good bone structure, good muscle density and a magnificent chest. He was phenomenally symmetrical and structurally balanced, which are the sorts of things judges look for."

But the world of competitive bodybuilding was fraught with hazards. There are more than 15 bodybuilding organizations in this country putting on shows and tendering titles. Steroid use is rampant in many of them; politics abound in all. Judges are influenced by sponsors and promoters who have a financial stake in seeing their bodybuilders win. Scoring is subjective; close calls are seldom given to newcomers. The sport has bred only a handful of superstars such as Schwarzenegger and Lou Ferrigno (The Incredible Hulk). Their competition, documented in the movie Pumping Iron, marked the apex of bodybuilding, which would decline despite its cult following because it lacked broad spectator appeal. Even those who gain professional status may while away in obscurity, picking up endorsements from nutritional companies and appearance fees from shows, but unable to give up their day jobs.

"There are only 10 or 12 pros in the country who can actually make a living from the sport," says Ricky Gates, a former Dallas bodybuilder who trains other bodybuilders for competition. "The rest are bouncers or personal trainers or live off women or a person of the same sex."

The only track to turn pro in the United States is through the National Physique Committee (NPC), the amateur organization feeding the professional International Federation of Bodybuilders (IFBB). Win the NPC Nationals, the NPC USA or the NPC North American and your IFBB pro card is guaranteed. Scarcella won his first competition in an NPC-sponsored event, becoming Mr. West Virginia in 1983. By 1986, he felt as though he had outgrown the local competition, and he moved to Fort Worth, where he became manager of the now-defunct Outlaw Gym. But that job didn't last long, not after he met Debbie Muggli, a nationally titled professional bodybuilder from Dallas who would become his fiancee. That didn't stop him from dating, however, and she eventually broke off their engagement.

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