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Chris Dickerson (1939–2021), first Black Mr. America

by Linnea Crowther

Chris Dickerson was a bodybuilder who became the first Black man to win the Mr. America title, in 1970.

Mr. America

Dickerson found his way to bodybuilding through an unusual route. He trained as a dancer, actor, and opera singer at the American Academy of Dramatic Arts, and he began lifting weights at the suggestion of a vocal instructor who said it would expand his vocal range. Dickerson began competing in the mid-1960s, soon winning events including Mr. Atlantic and Mr. New York City. His historic Mr. America win was made even more notable by the fact that he was one of the few openly gay bodybuilders at the time. When he won Mr. Olympia in 1982, after twice coming in second in controversial decisions, he was the first openly gay winner of the coveted title. He became known for his elegant poses in competition, inspired by his training in ballet. Dickerson was also a model who posed for notable artists including Robert Mapplethorpe.

Dickerson on his proudest moment

“Winning the Mr. Olympia. Not only is it the highest title, both then and now, but also after two disappointments, to finally win it was great. That would have to be the pinnacle of my bodybuilding career. The other one, a close second, would have to be being the first African American to win the A.A.U Mr. America.” —from an interview for Bodybuilding.com

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Tributes to Chris Dickerson

It’s sad to hear of the passing of 1982 Mr. Olympia Chris Dickerson. Chris was 82. Rest In Peace. #RIP

Posted by Rich Gaspari on Friday, December 24, 2021

Full obituary: The New York Times

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