Los Angeles (AFP) – Hollywood tough guy Arnold Schwarzenegger has conquered terrorists, mercenaries, aliens and futuristic robots on the silver screen but finds himself in a real-life fight for health after emergency heart surgery.
The former bodybuilder turned action star, politician and climate activist was in a stable condition Friday, according to his spokesman, following the operation — a relief to fans of his 50-plus movies.
Living proof of the American dream, Schwarzenegger has transformed himself over the last half century from a poor Austrian country boy into a global celebrity and one-time leader of the world’s sixth-biggest economy.
“I came here with absolutely nothing… And California has given me absolutely everything,” Schwarzenegger once said of his time as Republican governor of the famously liberal state.
The son of a one-time Nazi police chief, Schwarzenegger was born in the Austrian town of Graz on July 30, 1947 in an ancient house that had no plumbing, no phone, no carpets and just a few lights.
While beefing up in a bid to get on his local soccer team, Schwarzenegger became infatuated by body-building, set up a gym in his parent’s basement and his sights on the Mr Universe prize.
After a stint as a tank driver in the Austrian Army, the six foot, two inch youth won the Mr Junior Europe contest before becoming the youngest-ever winner of the Mr Universe competition.
In 1968, after winning a string of contests, the penniless 21-year-old came to the United States to pursue his passion.
He earned a business and economics degree from the University of Wisconsin, and made a fortune in mail order and real estate while winning the Mr Universe title four more times.
– New kind of hero –
Shrugging off barbs about his thick Austrian accent and brawn, he then turned to Hollywood, where producers changed his name to Arnold Strong and dubbed over his accent for the 1970 spoof “Hercules in New York.”
His big break came in 1982’s “Conan the Barbarian” and two years later he won the role of a killer cyborg in “The Terminator,” melding humor, pathos and robotics into a new kind of cinema hero.
It was a role that would shape the remainder of his acting career and spawn four sequels, with another to come next year.
Joining Hollywood’s royalty, his ominous “Terminator” catchphrases “I’ll be back,” and “Hasta la vista, baby” entered the English lexicon.
He was on a reported $30 million dollars a movie at his height — and his extensive business activities over the years have contributed to his estimated $400 million net worth.
A staunch but moderate Republican, he married Maria Shriver — the niece of former president John F. Kennedy — in 1986, ironically becoming part of America’s Democratic royal family.
She was by his side during a six-day stay in a Los Angeles hospital in 1997 to correct a congenital heart valve condition from which he made a full recovery.
The couple had four children and she also came to his defense as allegations that he sexually harassed and “groped” 16 women surfaced during his bid for governor in 2003.
But the pair announced they were splitting up a few days before the Los Angeles Times revealed in 2011 that Schwarzenegger had fathered a son more than 14 years earlier with his housekeeper, Patty Baena.
– ‘The Governator’ –
“I’m least proud of the mistakes I made that caused my family pain and split us up,” Schwarzenegger, who also had an affair with his “Red Sonja” co-star Brigitte Nielsen, said in an interview in 2014.
Schwarzenegger’s life in the bruising world of politics has been just as tumultuous since he first announced himself on the world stage as the “Governator.”
Elected to lead the richest and most populous US state in a historic 2003 recall vote, he quickly lurched to the right, attempting to force through a raft of unpopular initiatives that turned off voters.
He engineered a remarkable turnaround, however, deftly spiking Democratic guns by shifting back to the center and distancing himself from the GOP on a range of social issues, such as abortion, gay marriage and gun control.
The course correction worked and Schwarzenegger was reinstalled as governor three years later, demonstrating the shrewd instincts that had served him so well during his movie career.
California law barred him from holding the governor’s office for more than two terms and rumors have swirled since he stepped down in 2011 that he would seek another public office.
But Hollywood beckoned once more and he has since appeared in a raft of action movies including the “The Expendables” franchise, “Sabotage,” “Terminator Genisys” and “Aftermath.”
Off-screen, Schwarzenegger has been on a crusade to save the environment, meeting world leaders for climate change discussions and urging the public not to see the issue as party political.
He has been an outspoken critic of US President Donald Trump, whom he replaced briefly as host in an unsuccessful NBC reboot “The New Celebrity Apprentice,” berating his adversary for pulling America out of the Paris Climate accord.
He has been dating physical therapist Heather Milligan, 27 years his junior, since 2015.