Whether or not you’re a fan of Arnold Schwarzenegger, you’ve probably been unable to avoid knowing a few things about him: maybe you’re aware he was crowned Mr. Universe at the age of 20 and Mr. Olympia (the first time) at 23, that he was the governor of some state or another, or that he and his bodybuilding peer Franco Columbu had a successful bricklaying business back in the late 1960s. Maybe you even know that his official “snatch” record is 243 pounds—or that today is his 68th birthday!
However, what you don’t know—at least not for sure—is Arnold’s height. Because nobody does. Except, just maybe, the Austria-born superstar himself.
While Arnold’s most noticeable physical feature at first glance is, presumably, his musculature and not his height, the media has been concerned with the man’s vertical stats for about as long as he has been in the spotlight. For years, Schwarzenegger’s official height has been listed at 6’1½” or thereabouts, but the number has failed to satisfy reporter after reporter, who accuse him of stretching the truth, wearing lifts, or both.
One journalist, for example, consulted several sources for inside info and came up with a range of results: the writer’s own wife, who’d previously met Schwarzenegger at an event, estimated that he was no taller than she was—or around 5’6”—while renowned critic Roger Ebert, when contacted for the sake of the same Chicago Reader article, also dismissed the official number of 6’1”. “No way,” he wrote back. “I’d guess 5’10” or 5’11”.”
Many of Schwarzenegger’s fans and observers have offered their own perspectives to the debate, including the forum participant “F. U. Shakespeare,” who noted that “a guy I used to train with met Arnold at a seminar” in the early 1970s and had “estimated Arnold’s height at 5’11”.”
As to why the former governator might be fibbing, the Washington Post points out that many men—especially those in the public eye—may be tempted to lie about their height in order to reap the benefits in a stature-prone society. Taller male politicians, the paper notes, typically have a three-to-one advantage over shorter ones, but the bias reaches actors, too; Men’s Health did the work of comparing “claimed heights to actual heights” among Hollywood’s biggest (if not tallest) stars, the Post reported, and concluded “that Arnold Schwarzenegger was 5’10", not 6’2"; that Charles Bronson was 5’7”, not 5’11”; and Burt Reynolds 5’8”, not 5’11"."
Thankfully, the effort to finally resolve the matter been picked up with gusto by the site ArnoldHeight.com, which (jokingly) claims to represent “around 200 scientists working around the clock to discover the true height of Arnold Schwarzenegger” with support from “several governments and commercial businesses from around the world.” While the team hasn’t yet determined the actor/politician/athlete’s exact height “under strict test conditions,” their efforts haven’t been totally fruitless, either: the team “can safely say he is somewhere between 5’9” and 6’2”.”
Schwarzenegger himself has weighed in on the topic. In a 2008 interview, he swore to interviewer Phil Bronstein that, despite haters’ suggestions that he is much shorter than he claims, he really is over six feet tall:
Schwarzenegger: I used to be 6’1” and three quarters. And I think now I’m 6’1”. I shrank. Bronstein: What happened? Schwarzenegger: I dunno. I dunno what happened. And the reason why I know it is not because I’m measuring myself. But we have a wall, in my closet. That we have always used, when kids came in, as they grew up. I would write their initials down and the date, and I would put, y’know, a book or something on their head and I would make a little line with a Sharpie [...] And so of course, every so often—especially lately, since my daughters are almost my height—they said, 'Let me measure you.' And so I stood against the wall and they put a book on my head and drew the line. And the next thing they measure with the tape measure and they said ‘You’re 6’1". You’re only 6’1"! You told us you were 6’1” and three quarters!” I said ‘Do it again, this is crazy.’ So I stood again and I made myself really tall and I stretched my neck and I did the whole thing and really was against the wall and I straightened out my back and the chest out. And she came in and [said] ‘It’s one-eighth of an inch more. But you’re still 6’1”.
In the end—or until he submits to measurement in laboratory conditions—we may have to take the man’s word for it.