Irvin ‘Zabo’ Koszewski dies at 84; bodybuilder renowned for his abs


In the sport of bodybuilding where competitions include judging on various parts of the body, Irvin “Zabo” Koszewski had a singular distinction. Not that the rest of him wasn’t finely sculptured and impressive, but judges generally would come back to his midsection, and his impressive set of abs.

“He had a 10-pack of abs when everyone else had a six-pack,” said John Balik, the owner and publisher of Iron Man magazine.

Koszewski, who won the Amateur Athletic Union’s Mr. Pacific Coast title in 1953 and the AAU Mr. California title in 1954 and several best abdominal titles in three decades of bodybuilding competitions, died March 29 of pneumonia at a hospital in Doylestown, Pa. The longtime resident of Santa Monica and a Muscle Beach presence was 84.


“The history of Muscle Beach was about its people as much as the sun and the sand,” Balik wrote in his magazine, noting that Koszewski “was the embodiment of the spirit of Muscle Beach.”

Koszewski obituary: The obituary of bodybuilder Irvin “Zabo” Koszewski in Saturday’s Section A misstated the name of Collingswood High School in New Jersey, where he played sports, as Collingwood. —

He was born in Camden, N.J., on Aug. 20, 1924, and was a gifted athlete as a young man. At Collingwood High School, near his home in Woodland, N.J., he was an all-state guard in football, he wrestled and he swam competitively. He began lifting weights as a teenager in the late 1930s and didn’t stop.

He enlisted in the Army after Pearl Harbor and served in the South Pacific. After his discharge he wrestled professionally for a time and started competing in bodybuilding competitions. He was the AAU’s Mr. New Jersey in 1948, and the AAU’s Mr. Middle Atlantic in 1950.

But California beckoned, so he and three buddies piled into a car in the early 1950s and headed for Santa Monica.

Friends also recalled him as extremely well-read, funny and philosophical.

He trained consistently and constantly, friends said. And he was still working out just months before he died.

Along Muscle Beach, Koszewski’s abdominal workouts became legendary. In his prime, he would do 500 Roman Chair sit-ups, usually in about 15 minutes.

“He was a simple guy in what he needed,” Balik said. “He pared things down to his friends, the beach and the workout. Those things were the center of his life.


“The standing joke about Zabo is that he wouldn’t go further inland than Lincoln Boulevard.”

And like many of the other stars of Muscle Beach, Koszewski appeared in entertainer Mae West’s nightclub act as one of her Muscle Beach Boys. He also appeared in some films, including bit parts in “Spartacus” and “Planet of the Apes,” as well as the Cheech and Chong vehicles “Nice Dreams” and “Things Are Tough All Over,” in which he was the stunt double for Tommy Chong.

He was competing in bodybuilding competitions well into his 40s.

Koszewski was the manager of Joe Gold’s gym and the World Gym in Santa Monica and was working until a few months before he died.

He came down with pneumonia early this year and moved to Pennsylvania to be near his daughter, Nancy Pyle.

She survives him, as does another daughter, Candice Wallace of Sacramento, and three grandchildren.