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King of Health Clubs Roy Zurkowski Dies At 81

Roy Zurkowski Helped Governor Schwarzenegger

BLOOMFIELD HILLS – He had a business plan that put him in the midst of the glamorous of Hollywood. Roy Zurkowski took his hobby to a success level that he never imagined was possible. The Chicago native passed recently and had recently turned 81.

His marketing model was to use Hollywood spokespersons that were just on the edge of super-stardom. He merchandised his health clubs by using the glitter of TV and cinema talent. Some of the celebrities that he convinced to promote Vic Tanny’s on national television included Cher, Lynda Carter, and Farrah Fawcett. He also signed Raquel Welch, Victoria Principal and Arnold Schwarzenegger to market the exercise clubs.

“I would sign them before they went galactic, I couldn’t afford them later,” Zurkowski had said. All went super-nova and his international health and fitness business thrived.

Schwarzenegger, now the Governor of California said, “Roy was a great fitness leader, a great entrepreneur, and a fantastic friend. We had a wonderful friendship and Maria and I were sad to hear of his passing.”

Zurkowski was also a champion body-builder and won the Mr. Chicago and Mr. Illinois titles in 1953. When Vic Tanny, an early pioneer of New York health club franchises, over-extended his expansion, Zurkowski and two partners bought the company.

Zurkowski always tan and fit was adamant about his own workouts.

“The atmosphere of a club should make you want to exercise,” he had said.

He stressed the ambiance of a workout facility. “It should be, 90% environment and enthusiasm and 10% equipment,” he relayed in a People Magazine article about celebrities and their fitness regiments. “Changing up routines is the key.”

Roy moved to Detroit in the 1960’s and kept the Vic Tanny brand and renamed the Illinois facilities as the Chicago Health Clubs. This became the nation’s largest health and fitness operation with more than 380 locations.

Roy later formed a holding company called the Health and Tennis Corporation of America. He and partner Donohue Wildman also took over the Jack LaLanne clubs and the popular New York celebrity destination, the Vertical Club.

After giving discounts to new club members and creating another wave of cash flow, expansion renewed. Bally’s acquired American Fitness Centers and Nautilus Fitness Centers.

Former football star, Mike Lucci, who was President of Bally’s said, “Roy was a dream to work with and after we acquired Lifecyle, (an exercise bike manufacturer), we got back into celebrity marketing.”

Bally’s marketed a promotion featuring the slogan “Turn on Your Life” with television’s Terri Hatcher. At the time she was starring in the hit show “Lois and Clark”. She became another Hollywood ‘A’-lister that went super-nova after an inspired merchandising campaign.

A world traveler, Zurkowski kept his mansion in Bloomfield Hills and after retirement in 1990. He spent his time in Florida at a luxury ocean condo.

Roy served on several charitable boards including Best Buddies in Washington, D.C., the National Special Olympics, the Detroit Institute of Arts, The Beaumont Foundation, and the Michigan Cancer Foundation.

He valued education along with fitness and donated exercise equipment to various institutions throughout the country.

Loyal employees often referred to Roy affectionately as Mr. Z.

Longtime secretary, Janice Broniak said, “Roy Zurkowski was blessed to have great friends and caregivers.”

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