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Remembering Chris Dickerson: The First African American To Become Mr. America

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Chris Dickerson, born Henri Christophe Dickerson, became Mr. America for the first time. He was born on August 25, 1939, in Montgomery, Alabama, as the youngest of three children. Dickerson attended a Quaker boarding school in Ohio after his parents divorced, where he developed an interest in the performing arts. This led him to Mannes College of Music in New York City, where he also studied at the American Academy of Dramatic Arts. Dickerson began weight training in college to improve his physical fitness for the arts.

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Dickerson moved to Los Angeles in 1963 to train with well-known bodybuilder Bill Pearl after working on his physique. He finished third in his first competition after two years of training. Dickerson’s background in the arts, particularly dance and theater, provided him with a level of presentation when posing that distinguished him from other bodybuilders competing. This edge, combined with his education and willingness to follow the rules, propelled him to make history.

Chris Dickerson won the Amateur Athletic Union (AAU) Mr. America contest five years after he began, not only because of his flawless form, but also because of his poise and personality. He was the first African American to receive the award. Dickerson came out as gay in the late 1970s, and in 1982, he became the first openly gay man to win the International Federation of Bodybuilding and Fitness (IFBB) Mr. Olympia contest. He was also the oldest recipient of the award, at 43. He continued to compete in a variety of events until his retirement from the sport in 1994.

Dickerson continued to compete in various arenas after retiring from the bodybuilding stage. Opera was one of his interests, and he appeared in several productions in the United States and Germany between 1974 and 1979. Dickerson also appeared on television and went on speaking tours. Dickerson was inducted into the IFBB Hall of Fame in 2000. After his inauguration, he continued to pursue his various interests, from singing the national anthem before bodybuilding competitions to training incoming bodybuilders.

Dickerson underwent surgery for a fall in March 2020, and while in the hospital, he suffered a severe heart attack. He then contracted COVID-19 while recovering from a heart attack and surgery in a nursing home. Despite both attacks on his health, Dickerson survived and will celebrate his 81st birthday on August 23, 2020. Chris Dickerson died a little more than a year later, on December 23, 2021, in Fort Lauderdale, Florida, at the age of 82. Dickerson competed in approximately 50 bodybuilding competitions during his career and remains one of the sport’s most successful competitors.

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