One of the pioneers of natural bodybuilding has left the stage for the last time. American Bodybuilding Coordinating Committee (ABCC) founder Jack Linley O’Bleness passed away on Thursday, December 22, at his home in Apple Valley, California, after a long illness.
Jack was born on April 22, 1927, in Bristow, Oklahoma. He started training at age 16 and married his wife Tressa when he was 17. They were married for more than 66 years until her death last year.
Jack and Tressa began an auto racing career in 1945 and raced stock cars, sprint cars, and micro-minis for more than 20 years until injuries from different accidents eventually led to their retirement.
Bodybuilding was always a favorite pastime for Jack, and he started seriously training people in 1949 at the age of 22. He ultimately trained hundreds of people from all over the world through his Monster Maker Gym and Equipment Company first in Redondo Beach and later in Inglewood and Apple Valley, California. A man of formidable size and strength himself – usually fluctuating between 200-240 lbs bodyweight – Jack could clean and push-press 315 lbs and bench press 415 lbs.
One of the earliest pioneers in natural bodybuilding, Jack began promoting drug-free contests in 1969 and in 1979 founded the American Bodybuilding Coordinating Committee (ABCC) in California to advance drug-free competition. At the same time, he was also named Southern Pacific Chairman of the Amateur Athletic Union (AAU) Physique Committee.
Within months of his first ABCC contest, Jack had 8 separate lawsuits filed against him by athletes whom he refused entry but claimed to be natural. He ultimately prevailed and offered them – or anyone whom he had refused entry – to take a polygraph to corroborate that they were “clean,” but no one ever accepted. By now he was receiving anonymous death threats, his truck was bombed, and his dog was blinded, and he was forced to attend his contests accompanied by an attorney and several biker friends as bodyguards. Even some of his assistants were obliged to hire escorts for protection.
ABCC shows were conducted in NV, OR, TX and WA in the early 1990’s, but the majority of ABCC events took place in California. The organization operated under a one-year drug-free policy until late 1989 when they became one of the original amateur affiliates of the World Natural Bodybuilding Federation (WNBF) together with the North American Natural Bodybuilding Association (NANBA) and the National Gym Association (NGA). From that time forward they operated under a five-year drug-free policy. The ABCC remained a WNBF amateur affiliate through 1994 but continued to operate independently under Jack’s leadership through the mid-2000s.
Jack, 84, had been confined to a wheelchair for the past several years recovering from a head-on auto collision that left him unconscious for 4 days with both legs broken and 9 broken ribs. Despite his physical limitations, he was soon back training athletes again and promoting “drug-free” but in recent months had been battling pancreatic cancer.
Natural bodybuilding was very important to Jack, yet he had a genuine compassion for those athletes who used steroids and experienced health problems. He was always urging others to help them and to encourage them to convince others to remain drug-free. He believed that natural athletes can do just as well as those who use steroids – and do it longer.
To honor his legacy in natural bodybuilding, Jack was inducted into the U.S. Natural Bodybuilding Hall of Fame in 2010.
It is ironic that Jack should pass away only weeks before the first-ever Natural Bodybuilding Summit on February 11, 2012, where leaders of most of the major natural bodybuilding organizations in the U.S. will meet for the first time to discuss how they might work together for the future of natural bodybuilding. It was one of Jack’s fondest dreams to see the different organizations united in a common effort without the egos and petty politics that only diminish the sport.
Services will be held on January 7 at 2:00 P.M. at Sunset Hills Chapel. Thanks to Jack’s neighbors and good friends Jason and Vanessa Maston of Apple Valley for organizing the services and for providing information of his passing to his many friends around the country.
Rest in peace, old friend. I will imagine you pumping iron whenever I hear a thunderstorm. Let the thunder roll.