Pumping Iron (1977): George Butler, Director of Schwarzenegger Docu, Dies at 78

George Butler, Pumping Iron Director, Dies at 78

The documentary filmmaker was best known for helping introduce Arnold Schwarzenegger to Hollywood.

George Butler, the British documentarian best known for Pumping Iron, his 1977 body-building feature starring Arnold Schwarzenegger, has died. He was 78.

Butler died on Oct. 21 of pneumonia at his home in Holderness, N.H., his son Desmond Butler — an investigative reporter for The Washington Post confirmed.


The filmmaker was born in 1942 in Chester, England, and started his career as a stills photographer. He was educated at the University of North Carolina.

Together with Robert Fiore, Butler co-directed and produced Pumping Iron, which saw Schwarzenegger face off against Lou Ferrigno in a competition for the title of Mr. Olympia.

Butler’s later docus included Going Upriver, a film about Senator John Kerry’s naval tour of duty in Vietnam, and The Endurance, a re-telling of Ernest Shackelton’s ill-fated expedition to Antarctica in 1914-16 that earned Butler a BAFTA nomination in 2001. The film was narrated by Liam Neeson.

Throughout Butler’s career, his documentaries were recognized at festivals in Aspen, Florida, Hawaii, Portland, Seattle. He was nominated twice for the Grand Jury Prize at Sundance; first in 1990 for In the Blood and second in 2001 for The Endurance.

His final credit was Tiger Tiger in 2015, which followed big cat conservationist Dr. Alan Rabinowitz as he traveled to a mangrove forest at the India-Bangladesh border.

Survivors include longtime companion Caroline Alexander, a producer and writer with whom Butler collaborated on The Lord God Bird and other projects; sons Desmond and Tyssen, a brother and six grandchildren.