Leon Samson is a strong man with bite
WHAT started as a bit of fun to show off his strength to his mates turned into an international career for Leon Samson.
The 83-year-old Maroochydore former strongman moves a bit slower than he used to but his broad frame is irrefutable evidence of a man who could complete seemingly inhuman feats.
Mr Samson was raised in the Greek village of Diavatos Imathias, survived a German bombing raid during the Second World War and grew into a physically exceptional man.
He excelled at long distance running and wrestling.
In his own words, he always won.
"When I was young, nobody could say nothing to me. I would just belt them down," Mr Samson said.
He started bending steel bars and breaking nails with his teeth when around his friends.
"It was not professional. It was just for fun," he said.
He did not know at the time that his youthful posturing would develop to earn him fame and a place in a guild of travelling performers who toured Australia during the 1960s and '70s.
Mr Samson travelled by boat from Greece to Australia in 1955. He disembarked in Melbourne and then went to Bonegilla, in Victoria's north, before going to South Australia.
There he worked clearing farmland for 10 shillings an hour until falling out with a fellow Greek colleague.
Mr Samson's position was deemed untenable after that and he moved to Melbourne to work for General Motors Holden.
In 1955 he headed up to Brisbane, where he spent four or five months mainly operating a jackhammer for the city council.
At night he would go to the YMCA to compete and win at judo and jujitsu.
His strongman act was developing all the while.
It was at the Melbourne Exhibition in 1956 that he changed from Atlas, the strongman from Greece, to The Young Samson.
He said he appeared on a Channel 9 children's television show, breaking nails and bending a bar using his eye socket, just 16 days after the station began broadcasting.
Eating razor blades became a part of his act and in 1958 he decided to take lying on a bed of nails to a new level.
With his back on a bed of sharpened nails, a 300kg stone was laid on his chest and members of the audience invited to slam it with a sledgehammer.
"Naturally, it's a little painful," Mr Samson said.
"When you move around it cuts the skin."
But he said it was just like performing any other task.
"Like everything, you have to believe you can do it," he said. "If you don't believe it, you can't do nothing."
His career took him around Australia with performers such as Slim Dusty and Normie Rowe, and his act expanded to cutting the outer shell of a car into tiny pieces to eat that too.
In 1970 he returned to Greece and continued his act before moving to Germany in 1978 after catching attention at the 1976 Oktoberfest.
Mr Samson continued to perform in Germany and Luxembourg until 1990 while also running businesses dealing in bratwurst, candy and popcorn.
He stopped performing after Oktoberfest in 1994.
"I was always missing Australia," he said.
He returned to Australia in 2012 and moved to the Sunshine Coast. He misses some of the people he spent years working with.
"I've met some good people, but I don't think I can see them again," he said.