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He was born with the name Louis Uni in the French town of Marsil-largues in 1862, but to a generation of strength fans he was Apollon, the "King of Athletes," the "Demigod of
Strength." In his prime Apollon was a huge man, standing well over six feet tall and weighing a hard 260 pounds. He was a natural athlete, a huge hulk of a man who performed
his feats of strength by main force, unaided by lifting techniques.
Louis Uni began his career as a professional strongman on the stage of the Folies Bergere. There, sandwiched between the risque girly shows, Apollon displayed his strength to the Parisian public. Almost at once he caught the attention of Edmond Des-bonnet, who began a campaign of glorifying Apollon in his various books and magazines that continued until the King of Athletes' death.
Apollon never really practiced weight training in any regular or scientific way. Had he done so, there is no telling what superhuman feats he might have accomplished. Unfortunately, he was always a rather easygoing man who did only as much as was absolutely necessary in order to maintain his reputation.
If Apollon was just a big, lazy lug, then his wife was his exact opposite. Mme. Apollon was as volatile and domineering as her husband was laid back and passive. This personality clash became apparent during one of the strongman's performances in 1889. The centerpiece of Apollon's music hall act was a spectacular scene in which he impersonated an escaping prisoner. He was supposed to bend two heavy bars apart in a grate and thus evade his pursuers. When Apollon attempted to pry apart the bars on this particular evening, however, he found them to be stronger than usual. Despite all his efforts, the bars refused to budge.
Mme. Apollon, watching from the wings, grew increasingly annoyed with her husband. "What are you waiting for?" she whispered threateningly, "Are you asleep? Try harder and go through! The audience is getting impatient!"
The henpecked Hercules could only tug harder at the unresponsive bars. Apollon pulled mightily, the sweat covering his face and powerful arms while his wife stamped her foot and made menacing remarks, certain that her husband was in another of his lazy moods. Eventually, after an almost superhuman effort, the bars began to give. At last Apollon parted the bars enough to squeeze through, but the effort cost him so much energy that the strongman was forced to cancel the rest of the performance.
As it turned out, the blacksmith who had been hired to straighten the bars from the previous performance had mis-understood and tempered the iron to make them extra strong. This was why Apollon had so much trouble. Had it not been for his termagant wife, most likely he never would have succeeded in performing this amazing stunt.
Bar bending was not the only feat that Apollon attempted. Most stage strongmen devised a unique act of strength that only they could perform. Apollon was no different. His specialty involved lifting a bulky axle with two iron wheels attached. The contraption weighed 166 pounds, but it was not the weight that made the axle difficult to raise. The handle was particularly thick, making an overhead lift almost impossible for all but Apollon. After the strongman's death a few athletes were able to lift the weight over their heads, but not many. The last successful lift was by John Davis in 1949.
Apollon's triumphs did not last forever. Sadly, he died alone, a virtual pauper. A painful abscess burst in his throat one night, and he swallowed the poison. The man who had once been the darling of French strength fans was laid to rest in virtual solitude. The demigod had proved to be mortal after all.