by Christian Duque
Phil Hernon loved helping people. He’s been making videos all the time, be it for his own platforms or to appear friendly on others. He knew he could be a smart ass, but while he knew a lot about bodybuilding, supplements, and nutrition, he never closed himself off. He was not one of the so-called gurus, who believed themselves to be geniuses who believed they were not learning anything new.
Other than that, Phil lived the life of a professional bodybuilder and he has certainly paid his dues. He knew what it took to advance in what was arguably the most competitive era in bodybuilding. While the ’70s was the Golden Era, and one of the greatest champions of all time emerged in the’ 80s – The Totally Awesome Lee Haney – the ’90s were viewed by many top authorities as the toughest decade to contend with the pro cards were few and far between; It was a time when the boys brought the size AND the state with them.
Speaking of size, Phil brought a huge amount of it with him. Perhaps his best performance was in the USA in 1995, where he defeated Craig Titus. Although Craig was the big name in this line-up and gave Hernon the riot, in 2008 Mr. Olympia Dexter “The Blade” Jackson fought for it overall and was razor sharp.
Despite a huge win even when bodybuilding was on TV and the magazines were in full swing, Phil would very soon be overlooked. His pro career was almost non-existent in terms of length, but he was able to go pro in top form, and this competition basically got him. It also gave him the credibility he needed, but that wasn’t enough for him. Hernon used his pro status and knowledge gained to address the dark areas of sport. He was very critical of the drug culture, shed light on life after the professional and really spoke without a filter. There are many people in the fitness industry who market themselves to say whatever comes to their mind, but nothing could be further from the truth. Phil told it the way it was.
Phil Hernon may not have been very popular; Indeed, many thought he was a forgotten bodybuilder, but in the hearts and minds of hardcore bodybuilders his name was a respected one. In fact, videos of RX Muscle, Jerry Ward, and even younger content creators like Nicks Strength And Power and Desktop Bodybuilding showed a great deal of respect for ex-Mr. USA after his death.
Phil inspired people to let off steam, which made some of these guys more popular than him. The fact is, few people really understood where Hernon came from. While some of his critics branded him a know-it-all, others thought he was mostly dull. They justified his skepticism by saying that his career was anything but excellent. However, the reality is that bodybuilding is a tough life and we have seen far more deaths and serious injuries than expected. While a percentage of those who are on dialysis in their thirties and forties or have severe heart disease may have a family history or previous medical history (removed from bodybuilding), the vast majority of people struggling with these serious health problems are are in this boat because of their heavy PED usage. Phil didn’t get around the bush because of that.
He wanted the world to know and dug deep into every video. I’ve always wondered why it wasn’t picked up by a Generation Iron, an RX Muscle, or even Muscular Development. While he was big on the boards when the boards were in full swing, I don’t think he had any aspirations to become a talking head, at least not in a business sense. He was a legend (for the real fans) and someone the real hardcore fans listened to. He spoke out against fashionable diets, lame training styles, and the senseless use of experimental dietary supplements, the real effects and risks of which were largely unknown.
I don’t think I have ever heard of him berating testosterone or moderate cycles, but he was very old fashioned as he really believed in the value of proper exercise and diet. He also tended to remind me of MD’s Steve Blechman. To be honest, there aren’t that many people who actually read scientific studies. There are a lot of people who like to bring up terms like “science supports this” or “science” but they don’t really know. They don’t really take the time to study what’s new, they just assume that if they include these kinds of empty phrases in their arguments, no one will question them. And few would probably do that; However, if Phil Hernon heard something that contradicted what he knew, at least he would object. Disagreeing is big, especially when most of the so-called gurus these days avoid and often run away from debate.
As someone who has interviewed many of the greats, especially people who have been overlooked (e.g., Alq Gurley, Ron Love, John Simmons, Abbas Khatami, etc.), I never asked Phil for an interview. Actually, I might have, but maybe I didn’t pursue it any further. I do not remember. Still, it would have been a great time. I saw him post a lot on the Strength And Physique Super Board on Facebook, but I always thought that one day I would get to it.
Speaking of SSB – Version 2.0, this is a group that you should definitely join. I would say it’s one of the last places hardcore bodybuilding comes first. I’ll include a link below.
Phil always posted there, as did a few other old school formats. The content wasn’t spammy like much of what you see on social media today. He didn’t solicit a dozen sponsors, he didn’t ask for money, he just conveyed wisdom. That’s a really important thing that he did, and it wasn’t for a couple of weeks or a couple of months. Phil Hernon has always spread knowledge, it might not have much production value, but the truth more than made up for it.
Again, there are always 3 pages to each story. What is factual and what is nonsense; Interestingly, the truth almost always falls somewhere in between. Phil left you, the viewer, to make your own personal judgments. That being said, he would do his thing with a lot of heart. He often appeared to be pleading with people. It was like trying to stop people from maybe making some of his mistakes.
The fact is, he went all the way. At 5’7, 240 lbs shredded, Phil Hernon was a 100% ’90s bodybuilder. He could keep up with the best and emerge victorious. To become a professional like this could only have been surpassed by winning the Ironman, NOC, Arnold or Olympia. I don’t think that winning the prestigious NPC USA Championships can be compared to winning anywhere other than the Big 4 Pro shows I just rattled through.
A lot of guys these days go pro by finishing 2nd in a class – or by default. If 2nd place has already won a Pro Card in some competitions, 3rd place can receive one. In some rare situations where the best guys in different age groups compete against each other, a person who finished 4th could earn a professional card if 1st, 2nd, and 3rd have already won cards. Listen folks, when you’re a pro – that’s all that matters, isn’t it?
I would like to say that it doesn’t matter how you go pro, but somehow it does. If you got a Pro card by finishing 3rd at a Masters show. Victory in the US put Phil Hernon on the map – worldwide. It may have been twenty-five years and his run may have been very short, but at least he lived to see it. And that definitely added a great perspective to his take on the sport and its comments for years to come.
I don’t know what Phil died of, but I know he will be remembered for his many contributions to the sport. I just wish more people heard him while he was alive. I can’t tell you how many videos I’ve seen of him. There must be at least three or four dozen. That may not seem like much now, but let me get that straight. While Phil probably made hundreds if not thousands of videos, it doesn’t seem like much to say that I watched 30-40, but I watched them from start to finish. Nowadays, when most people have a 3-5 minute attention span, a 20-30 minute video means that you are really engaged and really enjoying what you are seeing. I loved Phil’s honesty and I loved the fact that he spoke without fear. I found that very refreshing about him. If you ever get a chance, check out his Iron Debate with Lee Priest, that was Phil Hernon To A T.
Here at Iron Magazine, we are all very sad about Phil Hernon’s death. We offer our deepest condolences to his family and friends. Even though he’s gone, he will never be forgotten.