Health club entrepreneur and weight machine developer Rudolph “Rudy” Smith died at his Las Vegas home on July 5. He was 84.
Smith was born in Culver City on July 31, 1925. He was the son of Isaiah Smith and Sophia Teresa Dahl Smith, and the brother of Vivian and Thelma Smith.
In the 1940s when Smith was a teenager he worked at MGM Studios for a short period of time. In 1951, he went to work at a local Los Angeles health club, Vic Tanny’s Gym. Smith later became the vice president and general manager of Vic Tanny’s, which had become the largest chain in the country, at that time.
Smith met his wife Virginia in 1954 while working for Vic Tanny. They were married for 50 years, living and raising their family in Sherman Oaks and Malibu. Smith left the Tanny organization in 1962 to open his own club, the Sherman Oaks Health Club, which catered to top television and film stars.
Smith was asked in 1970 by his good friend Don Wildman, a Malibu resident, to run Holiday Spa Health Clubs, which became part of Health & Tennis Corp. (now Bally Total Fitness). Smith’s touch made Holiday Spa Health Clubs the envy of the industry and was considered by many the most successful chain of health clubs in history.
After raising their family in Malibu, Smith and his wife in 1979 decided to make their home San Clemente. He enjoyed boogie boarding with his many friends and was nicknamed “T-Street Tarzan” for his award-winning Tarzan yell, as he rode the waves. Smith also enjoyed skiing in Utah and water-skiing at Lake Arrowhead.
After a brief one-year retirement, Smith and his partner Andy Palluck bought Las Vegas Athletic Clubs in 1991. Later, old partners and friends Wildman, Jerry Kahn and George Jaconetti became part of the team. The company transformed from a small local chain of health/racquetball clubs to a major place for working out in Las Vegas
Smith made countless contributions to the health club industry, but most notably was his development of the Smith Machine, which was originally conceived by his longtime friend Jack LaLanne. Smith continued to tweak and improve the device, and it became one of the world’s most popular pieces of weight training equipment.
In 1996, Smith received the National Fitness Trade Journal’s Lifetime Achievement Award. And in 2002, the International Health Racquet and Sportsclub Association granted Smith its highest honor, the Dale Dibble Distinguished Service Award.
The humble and colorful Smith considered his family the most important thing in his life and regarded them as his greatest success. He also enjoyed the people who worked for him and considered them part of his family. Smith’s family and close friends knew him as “Poopah.” One of Smith’s favorite sayings was, “In all of life, you are either striving to make yourself better or allowing yourself to get worse.”
Smith is survived by his children Todd (Kristi Owen), Ginny (Bret FitzGerald), Barbi (Randy Zamora) and Chad (Karene Kuhn) and grandchildren Aria, Eliana, Jessica Faith, Kali, Canon, Kamio and Carsen.
He will be buried with his wife Virginia, who died in 2006, in Corona Del Mar. A private service will take place for the family. A memorial Web site has been created for the couple at www.smithandvirginia.com
In lieu of flowers, donations can be made to Susan G. Komen for the Cure (Southern Nevada) or Augie’s Quest to cure ALS.