Get ready to flex, but stay calm – like birthday boy, Lou Ferrigno, I’m pretty sure we wouldn’t like you when you’re angry. The same can’t be said for Ferrigno, who is beloved the world over not only as a world class bodybuilder, but as the big green alter ego of Bill Bixby, aka David Banner, the mild mannered hero of the 1977 TV series, The Incredible Hulk. An actor of note, along with his ventures as a bodybuilder, fitness consultant, and personal trainer, Ferrigno has been a staple in the industry for over forty years, embracing his most famous role with warmth and good humor as well as proving himself as an actor of note.
So sit back, grab a slice of lightly irradiated birthday cake, and let’s take a look at the life and times of the man who brought the Hulk to life in live action for the very first time.
Born in Brooklyn, New York on November 9, 1951, Louis Jude Ferrigno, Sr., was the son of a police lieutenant. Early on as a very young child, Ferrigno suffered from a series of ear infections that cost him up to eighty percent of his hearing, but his hearing loss wasn’t diagnosed until he was three years old. His hearing loss, and the resulting speech impediment he suffered, made him the target of bullying while growing up. Reading comic books was an escape for him, and a desire to be as strong and powerful as the heroes of his favorite stories led to him pursuing an interest in weightlifting. Having no money to buy a real weight set, Ferrigno began with a broom handle and buckets filled with cement.
After graduating high school, Ferrigno won his first major bodybuilding title as the IFBB’s Mr. America in 1969, and the IFBB’s Mr. Universe just four years later. Ferrigno even trained with Arnold Schwarzenegger early in his career, and his attempt to beat Schwarzenegger to become Mr. Olympia was the subject of the 1977 documentary Pumping Iron. This was the film that would go on to make Ferrigno famous.
In the wake of Pumping Iron, Ferrigno was cast as the musclebound, nonverbal alter ego of scientist David Banner in The Incredible Hulk, the role for which he is best known to this day. While his portrayal of the character was a silent one, as the Hulk had subhuman intelligence and could do little more than growl and grunt, Ferrigno made his mark on the character with a performance that transcended words. Using movement alone, he embodied the animal rage and the primal danger he personified. However, in quiet moments, he brought a humanity to the character that spoke to the gentle and educated man within his massive frame, and made it difficult to remember that David Banner, dark and light, was actually portrayed by two separate men.
There was, perhaps, a reason for that: though the two never shared the screen together, Ferrigno and Bixby went on to become very close friends, with Ferrigno citing Bixby as being a mentor and father figure to him. While Ferrigno appeared as the Hulk for the last time in the final episodes of the show in 1982, Bixby would later go on to direct Ferrigno in three subsequent Hulk TV movies.
While Ferrigno has appeared in various other roles over the course of his long career, like films such as The Adventures of Hercules in 1985 and TV shows like the children’s animated series Adventure Time as the voice of Billy, it is the Hulk that has remained his most beloved role. This is something Ferrigno has embraced enthusiastically, having made cameo appearances in both 2003’s Hulk starring Eric Bana and 2008’s MCU installment The Incredible Hulk starring Edward Norton. In addition to cameos, Ferrigno has voiced the Hulk himself in the MCU in The Avengers and Avengers: Age of Ultron. All the while, Ferrigno continues to be a major figure in the fitness community, having his own fitness lifestyle brand, offering training services, and even pursuing work in law enforcement.
Ever the superhero, Lou Ferrigno has made his mark in Hollywood, and in the worlds of fandom – and for this, we salute him on his birthday. There will be no sad music playing, and no leaving for the next town, sir – not until the party is over and you know just how deeply you are appreciated.
Here’s to you, Lou, and we hope your special day is, as any birthday of the Hulk should be, a smash!
Liz Carlie (she/her/he/him) is a regular book, TV, and film reviewer for SCIFI.radio and has previously been a guest on ‘The Event Horizon’. In addition to being an active member of the traditional fandom community, she’s also an active participant in online fan culture, pro wrestling journalism, and spreading the gospel of the Marvel Cinematic Universe. She resides in Southern California with her aspiring superhero dog, Junior, enjoying life one hyperfixation at a time.