Review: Ronnie Coleman: The King (2018)

By Sean Gardner

Ronnie Coleman: The King, is a Netflix documentary about eight-time Mr. Olympia and body building legend, Ronnie Coleman. It follows Coleman as he prepares for back surgery. After decades of powerlifting and extreme bodybuilding, Coleman has suffered several collapsed and slipped disks. In a previous surgery, screws were put into place to help mitigate those issues. This surgery in the film, is to remove those screws. They cause Coleman so much pain, he needs to walk with crutches everywhere he goes, even just to get around his house. He casually mentions taking five to six oxycodones a day to ease the agony. Ease, not eliminate.

Despite the obvious sadness this situation and subject matter might induce on the surface, this movie is a heartwarming and uplifting examination of a very interesting man’s life. The film wisely chooses to make Coleman’s personality the main focus, rather than just his bodybuilding accolades. Plenty of time is dedicated to his younger days. Coleman speaks of growing up poor in Louisiana, being an honor roll student-athlete in high school. He describes graduating from college with a degree in accounting, but ultimately, somewhat by accident, becoming a police officer. All of these experiences are used by director Vlad Yudin to paint a beautiful picture of a surprisingly humble and compassionate man.

However, Yudin is also not shy about making sure the audience knows that Coleman is responsible for his own demise. He interviews Coleman’s contemporaries and rival bodybuilders. They are all convinced that Coleman worked harder than any of them to achieve success. Harder, but not smarter, pushing himself past his limits and doing anything he could to get bigger, and bigger, and bigger, without a concern for the consequences. Coleman’s doctors have also advised him several times to stop training. Yet he still does, six days a week, in the same dusty, rundown gym he’s always trained in.

The only problem I have with the film is the fact that steroids and performance enhancing drug use are not even mentioned once throughout the entirety of the film. Coleman, in not so many words, has admitted to taking “supplements” common amongst bodybuilders. The use of steroids and other similar drugs is well documented in the history of bodybuilding and professional sports in general. However, for some reason, this film simply chooses to ignore that fact.

Netflix is chock full of documentaries. I’m glad I stumbled upon this one because it helps dispel the myth that all bodybuilders are “meat heads.” It explores the life of one of the sports most iconic figures, but it also highlights his soft and friendly personality. If you watch it, you might become too afraid to ever lift weights again, but at least you would have had a glimpse into the life of a king.

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