By Mario Strong

Part 1

Sometime during the early Spring of 2021 an old friend of mine stopped by my home at night to chat for a few minutes. While standing and chatting by the side of his car I looked in and saw Leon Brown sitting there. I was startled at first, not realizing that Leon was there, but what was even more startling was the way he looked. Leon looked a lot smaller than from when I last saw him a few weeks earlier and I said to myself "it must be the way he's sitting", and let it go at that. Besides, Leon was his usual cheerful self and 'seemed fine,’ an assumption that would prove wrong in the days to come.

In the weeks and months to come I learned that Leon was not healthy because of Prostate Cancer. He had become very weak and was being 'medically treated'. On several occasions I called Leon to ask how he was feeling, his answer was always "great", and would not elaborate any further. Leon was a very private person and when it came to his health, he didn't want anyone to worry over him. 

Fast forward to September of 2021. After several Dr. visits and after being taken to the hospital for test, Leon collapsed in his home and had to be admitted into the hospital for 'treatment'. While there, I visited Leon most evenings. Physically, the cancer had ravaged through his body. He was no longer the herculean figure that once graced the pages of various muscle mags, he looked emaciated. His face was sunken in, and he looked extremely malnourished. Still, when asked, Leon said he was 'great'...not wanting me or anyone else to worry, even though he and I knew differently. 

There was a lot of evidently stuff wrong with Leon and after three weeks in the hospital he was transported to a nursing facility for 'rehab'. On the night Leon was being taken out of the hospital we reminisced a bit about the past and as he was being wheeled into the transport ambulance, I told him that I would visit him in the morning...not realizing that this would be the last time I would ever see him.

The next morning, I learned that Leon was not allowed to have visitors because of a two-week mandatory Covid isolation policy that the nursing home had. I felt very bad and worried over this because I knew that Leon was now 'alone'. Throughout the last few days of Leon's life, I spoke to him via phone many times. I could sense a growing concern, as the days went by, in Leon about his predicament, but still he would say that he was doing 'great'. 

Sadly, on September 24, 2021, I got the call that I dreaded receiving. Leon Brown, the legend, had passed. I had known Leon since 1972. He was my friend, as he was to many, and now he was gone. As much as I expected this day to come, I was still rocked when learning of Leon's passing. I was saddened beyond belief and felt that we all lost a part of our lives that day. The Brown Bomber was gone.


Part 2

Because Leon's wife, Danielle, had severe Parkinson's Disease, it was decided by a family member that there would be no services in remembrance of Leon. I, as many others, was not happy about that, but accepted the families wishes...for a while. In the beginning of October, I received a call from Keith Miguel. I knew Keith since 1978, when he was a young teenager and a member of my Staten Island Bodybuilding Club. Keith was a champion bodybuilder in his own right and pressed the issue of having a memorial service for our friend, Leon Brown. 

I was reluctant at first but the more I thought about it, and the more I was asked about it by others, I realized that something had to be done. But where and when would such a service be held? Both Keith and I decided that the best place to hold such an event for a 'brother in iron' was at the gym where he trained. After a few days I spoke to Rosario DiBernardo, who was a co-owner of Intoxx Fitness in the Grasmere section of Staten Island and pitched the idea to him. Rosario, from the first moment that he learned of our idea was one hundred percent behind it. We now had our location and set a date for the morning of October 17 for the memorial to be held.

Both Keith and I were elated and started to get our engines revved up for the preparation that was coming. Unfortunately, the very next morning, tragedy struck (for me). In a freak accident I broke my right leg and was down for the count. I called Keith that evening and told him that there was no way the memorial service was going to happen. He agreed and we left it at that...until Keith's wife, Sonya, intervened and gave us our marching orders, telling us to 'make it happen'!

Keith became obsessed with making the memorial happen. In the 10 days leading up to the event he became a man on a mission…there was no stopping him.  He enlisted the help of our good friend Jimmy White (another champion bodybuilder in his own right) and was off to the races. With just over a week to go promotions for the service were posted in various Island gyms as well as on the main Social Media sites. Through his connections, Keith was able to acquire chairs, tables, a podium, and a 60" TV, among many other things for the days big event. He was even able to get bulletins printed to hand out to guest as they entered the service. Keith's son, Mark, and Sonya oversaw the audio/visual aspects of the event. My wife, Aida, brought in beautiful flowers, as well as help setup and organize the event. I, with my foot elevated in a cast, wrote the opening remarks as well as the Eulogy (see below) to be given that faithful morning. I also created a video tribute and had a three-foot poster of Leon made. We were ready!


Part 3

The day of the event began with lots of questions, most notably, who would show up. Danielle, Leon's wife, had a very close friend by the name of Hillary, who flew in from Texas to help and be with her that weekend. Dr. Hillary Kouhana also wrote a poem (see below) in honor of Leon that she read at the event. 

The service was held in the gym's aerobic room...and it was packed. All the seats were taken, and friends were lined in the back and sides as they stood in respect. 

After I walked to the podium, with crutches, I welcomed everyone and thanked them for coming to honor Leon Brown. It was somewhat surreal for me because here I was, thanking folks for coming and paying their respects to my friend of nearly 50-years. Next, Keith gave a beautiful scripture reading which was followed by Aida reading a poem and Jimmy White reading the comments (see below) of three former Mr. Olympia's; Frank Zane, Lee Haney, Arnold Schwarzenegger, and also Leon's discovery, Akim Williams, all friends of the Brown Bomber. Rosario also spoke about his friend, Leon Brown, and what a privilage it was to have known him throughout the years...and theme that was echoed throughout the memorial.

The heart of the service was when Leon's friends, one by one, walked to the podium and poured their emotions, both sad and joyful, as they talked about their lost friend. Each had a consistent theme...Leon was always there, selflessly, to help and encourage them in life. They all loved Leon and they all expressed themselves the best they could. Even I, while reading the Eulogy, choked with emotion, as I spoke about my friendship with the Brown Bomber. It was all to sobering as reality dug deeper into our hearts. 

Towards the end of the service a ten-minute memorial tribute was played on the TV. It started with Arnold talking about his friendship with Leon, that was followed by Leon flexing his herculean physique during a competition, and finally, the end of the video created a lot of tears in the room, as over a hundred images from Leon's life, popped onto the screen, one at a time, making you realize, who Leon Brown, the bodybuilder and person was. To see a part of that video click here.

After the video presentation, Aida read a closing poem and thanked everyone for coming.

The memorial service was described as "A Moment in Time" by someone in attendance. And indeed it was, for Leon Brown, the Brown Bomber, had brought those closest to him together that day, through the love he instilled in them throughout his path in life.


Pictured are some in attendance at Leon Brown's memorial service. Danielle is holding flowers.


The Legendary Leon Brown – by Dr. Hilary Kouhana

As we begin this day, we wonder, can we find happiness
amidst pain and sorrow?
The heavy hearts we bare. A heavy glimpse into tomorrow.

We find solace in the patience of a saint.
We were taught that wisdom may not always be for the faint.
And what you got may not always be what you wanted.

Yet, the world is a better place how he left it.
Perhaps how he kept it.
Perhaps we saw greatness and never recognized it, but
complacently accepted it.

We, the people of the sport, whereby eminence dwelled
amongst us, enabled us to live out our dreams
if only for a sliver of time.

He graced us as a father figure, ever present and always
radiating smile.
For we now look to the future, while the past looks back
upon us.

As we say our farewells, we ignite his eternal flame.
The flickering memories shedding their light upon us, as we
realize we are better off now than better than before.



Eulogy of a Staten Island Bodybuilder - by Mario Strong

I first met the Brown Bomber at a bodybuilding show in 1972. It was a time long before champs such as Schwarzenegger and Ferrigno became household names. Back in those days bodybuilding was on the verge of becoming mainstream and here on Staten Island, we had our own champ, his name was Leon Brown.
Leon was a humble person, and he remained the same all his life. He did not compete for titles, trophies, notoriety or to satisfy his ego, he competed because he simply enjoyed the sport and the camaraderie that came along with it. For Leon, gathering with his buddies after a show and talking muscle was much more enjoyable than flexing his herculean physique in front of a thousand screaming fans.

I have never met anyone who had a greater love for bodybuilding more than Leon. His passion for the sport burned in his heart 24/7. Every muscle mag or book ever published was read by him. Every chapter, paragraph, sentence, and word was absorbed deep in his muscular cerebellum. He was a walking encyclopedia of bodybuilding knowledge. I remember many times, sitting back with him and discussing the latest trends in training and nutrition or perhaps it was a new piece of exercise equipment or a new physique star on the horizon. Leon knew every fact and detail about whatever subject was discussed. He loved bodybuilding. He loved training and he loved attending physique competitions. This was his element, this was where he was his happiest, this was where Leon Brown belonged.

Leon loved to reminisce about the golden age of bodybuilding. Especially the times when he traveled to California and trained alongside Arnold, Franco, Zane, and Draper. His funniest stories would be about Franco’s wild driving and how terrified he always was to be driven anywhere by the Sardinian. When talking about Arnold Leon had a thousand stories. Each one made you realize just how strong the bond of friendship between the two was. If there was one regret Leon had in life it was not moving to the West Coast during his youth and becoming a permanent fixture in the muscle-mecca scene.

As many of us know Leon was a likable person and had an aura of positivity about him that attracted folks like a magnet. One thing about Leon is that just about everyone knew him. Sure, all the muscle-heads knew of him but what was even more astounding is that wherever he went, regular people, that he never met before, would recognize him, and say hello.

Leon was also a compassionate and caring person. He had empathy for others less fortunate than himself and always stressed at the hardships of others. This was never more evident than on his last days, as he laid in his hospital bed terminally ill. Leon never complained about his predicament. He never asked why him. He never showed anger or sadness. Instead, he would show concern for his family and friends, especially the love of his life, Danielle.

I was very fortunate to have known Leon for nearly 50 years. He was not only a mentor to me but was a close friend that would be there if I ever needed him.

Leon Brown was an old school bodybuilder. He was hard-core. He was one of us. I pray, that in some way, we are all better people for having had the privilege of knowing him. 

Rest In Peace Brown Bomber. You will be greatly missed. 


Comments from social media:

Frank Zane -
I remember Leon Brown as a very positive, uplifting guy. He was always cheerful and will be missed. He was always in shape...maybe that is why he was so cheerful. Rest in peace.

Lee Haney -
Yes, Leon was one of the kindest people I have ever met. His precious wife, Danielle, was always by his side. I loved every moment spent talking to the two of them. God rest his kind soul.

Arnold Schwarzenegger -
Leon was one of my favorite training partners at Gold’s Gym in the golden era of bodybuilding. He was such a sweet guy, and unbelievably strong. I will miss him. My thoughts are with his family.


Akim Williams – who placed 9th in the prior week's Mr. Olympia.
"Very sad news, I will forever be grateful for all Leon has done for me, I wouldn't be bodybuilding if it wasn't for him."


The following was posted on Leon’s Facebook page by Ralph Palladino, an old friend of the Brown Bomber:

"Leon and I met when we worked at the Parks Department together in 1965. We hung out together with our crew "George, Bert, Carmine, Tommy, David, and a couple of others. We lived together in Venice beach cali and later Leon lived with me and my girlfriend Loretta in the East Village NYC until about 1978.

These two stories show his character and heart.

1- When living in Venice our bodybuilding friend Paul from Anderson Indiana, an all-white town, was teaching at Chrenshaw Grammar School to young kids in an all-black school. Paul could not figure out how to control the kids and get their attention. Then he invited Leon to come to the class to meet the kids. We came along for the ride. Leon stripped down to his bathing suit and began posing. THE KIDS WENT WILD. He told them stories about bodybuilding with the greats. Needless to say, Paul became a hero. Leon was all smiles all day...a real cool scene and nice thing to do.

2- While living with us and soon after meeting Danielle, Leon was in the Union Square train station when he ran into some transit police harassing and manhandling an older Black woman. She may have been homeless. Leon jumped in to protect her. The cops arrested Leon and took him to the station. This was a very brave and righteous thing to do. But wait. There is more. Leon always had a habit of when he got in trouble he usually got out. He was able to walk the streets of Rosebank back in the day when no Black people or even whites with long hairs could. He was known and respected. Well, inside the precinct the Captain recognized him. Charges were dropped and when Danielle came in fresh from protesting outside the courthouse Leon was seen with all the white cops and Captain telling them stories. Some were very long but he always garnered attention. 

That is two stories I could tell you about a man with a heart who instinctively did the right thing and always was great to kids.
I believe it was knowing him and meeting his friends like the Collins Brothers, Cyril Richardson and others... and especially his family...his sisters, brothers and grandmother Nanny that I really learned and understood that RACISM IS WRONG AND STUPID....PERIOD...........loved him! RIP good buddy."