By Bernard Bujold
Updated October 18, 2008
A French historian once confided to Ben Weider, businessman and author of numerous historical
works on Napoleon, “Ben, French Napoleonic historians think guys like you are great. But watch out,
if you make too much fuss and rock the boat, we’ll squash you like a bug…”
This threat, uttered by the French historian while he mimed crushing an insect underfoot, would have
daunted many – but not Ben Weider. He answered tit for tat: “OK, my friend, but Canadian bugs
don’t squash easily!
Historians have long believed that French Emperor Napoleon Bonaparte died of cancer while in exile.
Ben Weider has worked non-stop for over 40 years to prove, with the evidence to back him up,
that the famous French statesman was assassinated by the Comte de Montholon, a French general
who was deported with the Emperor and was wine steward on St. Helena. The poison theory was
initially rejected out of hand and ridiculed by historians, but Ben Weider persisted, and today poisoning
is accepted by all French historians
as the cause of Napoleon’s death, despite the reluctance and stubborn pride of others.
The well-known historian Jean Tulard is a case in point. He is considered the doyen of French History
and recently admitted that cancer could not have caused Napoleon’s death, despite his long-time
defense of this as the only acceptable theory. Tulard recently took part in a French TV broadcast,
Bouillon de culture, hosted by Bernard Pivot. He told the host that cancer could no longer be considered
the cause of Napoleon’s death, given the considerable scientific research on the subject. Research that,
as we know, was a result of Ben Weider’s unceasing efforts. But Tulard refused to come out in support
of Weider and when questioned as to the real cause of Napoleon’s death simply shrugged his shoulders.
Thierry Lentz, Director of the Napoleon Foundation, is another French Napoleonic historian who has
revised his opinion, admitting indirectly that the cancer theory is no longer viable. He acknowledges that
hair samples from Napoleon analyzed by experts in recent years are authentic in origin. He refuses,
however, to admit that Ben Weider’s argument is sound, though the facts are unequivocal.
The Canadian businessman recently tried to get Lentz to repeat publicly what he has said in private
regarding the impossibility of cancer causing Napoleon’s death. But Weider had to use roundabout
means – further evidence of the unfounded competition and hostility that persists between some
French Napoleonic historians and Weider.
Ben Weider finessed Lentz with a pamphlet entitled Empoisonnement de Napoléon –
Vérités et mensonges (The Poisoning of Napoleon – Truth and Lies), recently published and distributed
to members of the International Napoleonic Society. The booklet is by Jean-Claude Damamme, author
of several works on the Napoleonic period.
Vérités et mensonges is the report of a conference held in January 2003 in Strasbourg, France, where
Thierry Lentz acknowledged during his presentation that the analyses of Napoleon’s hair and resulting
arsenic poisoning theory were probably sound. But, he added, he would never admit this publicly.
Ben Weider had had the conference filmed by a French TV crew, but French law prohibits broadcasting
a person’s image without their consent. And Thierry Lentz refused to give his. To avoid the issue,
Weider had the conference proceedings – including Lentz’s remarks – written up by Damamme and
distributed to the members of the Napoleonic Society. This was just one of the many brilliantly aggressive
strategies that Ben Weider has had to employ over the last few decades in his struggle to gain
acceptance for his research into Napoleon’s poisoning.
In 1995, Ben Weider founded the International Napoleonic Society, which comprises almost 500
members in 40 countries: historians, scientists, and professionals working for other Napoleonic societies
around the world. The International Napoleonic Society aims to promote better understanding of the
Napoleonic era and to put an end to misrepresentation of the Emperor. The organization’s web site,
http://www.napoleonicsociety.com, gets thousands of hits every month.
Weider has led many campaigns during his lifetime, but the most difficult has certainly been his struggle
to change Napoleonic history. He believes in the importance of fighting for his convictions, and has
practiced this philosophy throughout his life. He has consistently emerged victorious from the many
difficult battles he has faced.
Ben Weider was born in Montreal on February 1st 1923. He spent some time as a child on his
father’s farm in St. Lin in the Laurentian Mountains north of Montreal, but grew up in the family house
on rue Coloniale in the “Plateau”, a Montreal neighborhood that has since become trendy with artists
and young professionals.Weider learned to speak French when he was very young and developed
lasting friendships with many French-Canadians. In fact he married a French-speaking Quebec girl,
Huguette Drouin. Weider met her when he went to La Presse, the daily French-language newspaper
in Montreal, to place an ad for a part-time trainer for his gym. Drouin was working in the paper’s office,
but was looking for extra work. “Huguette was called in for an interview. She didn’t get the job, but
she got the boss – and became his partner for life,” Weider likes to joke.
Ben’s father was a generous, hard-working man who disliked the racism evident in Quebec at the time.
“Liberty, Equality, Fraternity – that was Napoleon’s philosophy, and also my father’s,” states Ben Weider.
“My father told me that Napoleon freed the Jews, and that without him the Holocaust might have taken
place as early as the 19th Century. On April 20, 1799 during the Palestinian Campaign, Napoleon
became the first to consider creating a state of Israel. Napoleon wanted the cause of his death
determined so that his only son, nicknamed L’Aiglon (The Eaglet), might avoid suffering from the
same disease. I promised my father I would fight to the end to fulfill the Emperor’s wishes,” declares
“My father also taught me the real values of life and work. Working just for the money is not enough,
you must be passionate about what you do. If you’re passionate about your job the money will come.
My father was honest and respectful. He also taught me the value of acting on your principles, and
I think I’ve taught my own kids the same values,” Weider adds.
Three themes have dominated Ben Weider’s life. They have universal application and form his
1. Act with passion. Nothing endures without passion.
2. Have the courage to tackle obstacles – never back down.
3. Persevere. Sometimes you need patience, but if you keep trying you will succeed.
Weider reveals he has fought three important battles in his life. The first was setting up his business,
a multinational that manufactures and sells bodybuilding and fitness equipment, and publishes health and
fitness magazines. He built the company with his brother Joe Weider, who now lives in California.
One of the two brothers’ many triumphs was discovering Arnold Schwarzenegger and bringing the
bodybuilder and Hollywood superstar international success.
Ben Weider’s second battle was gaining international recognition for bodybuilding as a serious sport.
In 1998, he finally obtained official recognition from the International Olympic Committee for the discipline.
In his office on Bates Road in Montreal, Weider proudly displays the letter of confirmation from the
International Olympic Committee granting official recognition to bodybuilding. The letter is signed by the
former President of the IOC, Juan Antonio Samaranch.
The third major struggle of Weider’s life has been his scientific and historical research into the death
of the French Emperor Napoleon. This battle has been the toughest – but also the most rewarding.
Ben Weider’s crusade to change the accepted version of Napoleonic history began in 1961 when
Swedish dentist Dr. Sten Forshufvud, a learned historian and poison specialist from Göteborg, first
raised the possibility that Napoleon may have been poisoned by arsenic. Weider was also reading up
on the subject at the time for his research on sports health and came to the same conclusion: medical
descriptions of stomach cancer symptoms disproved the theory that the disease caused Napoleon’s
death. The accepted historical version at the time was that Napoleon had suffered from cancer for five
years and yet was quite fat when he died. Cancer victims, on the contrary, normally die thin and wasted.
Napoleon, therefore, could not have died of cancer.
The theory that Napoleon died of poisoning at the hands of one of his compatriots on St. Helena was
clearly troublesome and challenged accepted facts of France’s Napoleonic era. Most French
Napoleonic historians adamantly disputed and ridiculed the theory.
Ben Weider traveled to Sweden several times to meet Dr. Forshufvud and compare his personal
research to the Swedish historian’s. In 1978, the two self-taught historians published Assassination at
St. Helena. French Napoleonic historians poured scorn on the theory developed by the two amateurs –
a Swedish dentist and a Canadian businessman – who wanted to take on academia. The two were not
even French, yet dared give a history lesson to well-known French Napoleonic historians!
But Ben Weider has always felt a need to defend his beliefs, especially where injustice is involved.
He also feels it is his duty to correct historical inaccuracies concerning the man whom he regards as
one of the greatest statesmen of the modern age.
In 1982, Ben Weider published another work entitled The Murder of Napoleon. The book was translated
into 44 languages and sold over a million copies worldwide. Unsurprisingly, the influence of leading
French Napoleonic historians caused the work to be completely ignored in France.
The more French historians rejected his research out of hand, the more Ben Weider devoted his energy
and conviction to the task. Weider has always responded to opposition by listening to his opponents and
then answering their objections politely and knowledgeably. He can be very persuasive and has enjoyed
many successes, especially his campaign to promote bodybuilding as a serious sport. He was able to
convince several heads of state of the sport’s benefits.
Ben Weider went to great lengths to objectively persuade French Napoleonic historians they were wrong
about Napoleon’s death and that it was in their best interest to at least consider his arguments. His efforts
were unsuccessful, and for a long time they refused by and large to even listen to Weider’s proposals.
He was convinced that he was on the right track, though, and did not let this setback discourage him.
Weider decided to modify his strategy, and instead of spending his time on discussion and debate,
concentrated on rigourous scientific research that exceeded anything previously conducted by experts
in the field. Weider had the means to achieve his ambitions and did not stint in his efforts, personally or
For years, Ben Weider conducted a scientific investigation worthy of the cleverest detective. In 1998 he
received a very special, rarely awarded title in recognition of his research: Honorary Chief Inspector of
the Montreal Police Department. The title was awarded by former Police Chief Jacques Duchesneau,
and former CEO of a government organization responsible for passenger safety in Canadian airports.
Duchesneau described Weider as the greatest detective he had ever met.
Weider’s research into Napoleon’s death first turned up the journal of Louis Marchand, the Emperor’s
personal valet on St. Helena. It had been written for Marchand’s immediate family and was not intended
for general publication. However with the family’s consent, the document was released to the world and
1952. Marchand’s manuscript was significant because it described Napoleon’s physical state and his
day-to-day symptoms in the months preceding his death.
The crucial evidence in Ben Weider’s search, however, was without doubt the strands of Napoleon’s hair.
This was the most daring and costly of Weider’s initiatives. He sent several strands of hair, at his own
expense, to various international scientific laboratories for testing. The results of the analyses were the
same: Napoleon’s hair tested positive for an enormous quantity of arsenic.
The very first tests on Napoleon’s hair were carried out in 1960 by Dr. Hamilton Smith at the Harwell Atomic
Research Centre in London, England for Dr. Sten Forshufvud. The results of these tests were a revelation
and proved beyond doubt the presence of sufficient arsenic to cause serious medical problems.
These results formed the principal element in Dr. Forshufvud’s thesis, but needless to say, French
Napoleonic historians were quick to contest the findings.
In 1995, Ben Weider decided to rekindle the hair debate and address criticisms made concerning the
initial tests. He obtained two officially authenticated hairs belonging to Napoleon and gave them to the FBI.
The Bureau's tests confirmed the results previously obtained by the Harwell Institute. The new FBI tests on
the two hairs reached the same clear-cut conclusion: arsenic poisoning. According to Roger M. Martz,
head of the Toxicology Division of the FBI, the concentration of arsenic present in the hairs was sufficient
to beconsidered by the Bureau as proof of poisoning.
Moreover, when the results were plotted on a graph, it was clear there were significant variations in the
amount of arsenic present in the hairs, proving that the arsenic was introduced into the body during specific
periods and not on a continual basis. This important distinction eliminates the theory that arsenic may have
been present in the wallpaper of the house where Napoleon was quartered. The arsenic that was found
in the hair must have been absorbed into Napoleon’s blood unevenly, at different times.
French Napoleonic historians still refused to grant any credibility to this second scientific test on the pretext
hat it was not carried out by competent French authorities and that the quantity of hair was insufficient to
provide a meaningful result.
Weider replied to these particular criticisms by obtaining five more strands of Napoleon’s hair that he sent
to the leading toxicology centre in Europe, l’Institut de Médecine Légale (Institute of Legal Medicine) in
Strasbourg, France. The strands of hair had been preserved by five different owners and had all been
authenticated with supporting historical documentation.
Dr. Pascal Kintz, a well-known and highly respected toxicologist in France, carried out the analysis and
presented his report in 2001. The arsenic levels varied between 6.99 ng/mg and 38.53 ng/mg in the five
hair samples analyzed, whereas the human body can only safely tolerate levels from 0.1 to 1.0 ng/mg.
The results were once again conclusive and confirmed all previous tests, particularly those carried out
by the FBI. The Emperor had without a doubt been poisoned and Ben Weider uncovered the truth for
Since the recent publication of Vérités et mensonges, Ben Weider has received numerous letters of
support. They endorsed Weider’s irrefutable conclusions and his dedication to the investigation.
There was also criticism of the bad faith shown by some highly regarded French Napoleonic historians.
More recently, Ben Weider officially requested the help of the Metropolitan Police Service at Scotland Yard
in London to determine if the evidence unearthed in his research into Napoleon’s death would warrant a
murder investigation if part of a crime inquiry today. The Yard’s Suzanne Williams, Detective
Superintendent - Special Operations, confirmed that the facts established by the research, and specifically
the hair analysis evidence, would indeed be cause for investigation and such a case would be sent to the
criminal prosecution unit.
Scotland Yard’s confirmation proved the significance of Ben Weider’s work.
Weider does not bear grudges and has no hard feelings for those who have ridiculed him. He is sincere
and respectful, but does not hesitate to defend his beliefs. When wrong, Weider appreciates being shown
his errors and adjusts his actions accordingly. He has never doubted the legitimacy of his theory, and no
one has yet been able to prove him wrong. He understands why French Napoleonic historians might object
to his theory and accepts their scorn as part of the price to pay. Their dismissal of his arguments did not
offend him; on the contrary, it only served to feed and intensify his determination.
The Napoleon project has cost Ben Weider personally over US$3 million, $1 million of which went to create
a chair of Napoleonic history at Florida State University in the United States. Some may consider Napoleon
a tyrant – for Ben Weider, however, the French statesman was a superior individual who wanted only the
best for humanity. He believed in equality among people and could not tolerate racism. Napoleon
Bonaparte, much like Ben Weider himself, believed that one should never back down in the face of
opposition. The Emperor dreamed of the ideal “citizen of the world”, wanting his people and troops to
adopt this model and be true defenders of the truth. Ben Weider is a living example of Napoleon’s dream.
Weider has never chased after honours. His real reward is setting the historical record straight.
He has nonetheless received many honours, including the title of Knight of the Legion of Honor awarded
to Weider by the French government in the spring of 2000. Prince Charles Napoleon himself, direct
descendant of Napoleon’s brother Jerome, attended the presentation ceremony. In 1984, Ben Weider
was nominated for the Nobel Peace Prize for his role as mediator with the leaders of the 173 member
nations of the International Federation of Bodybuilding (IFBB). Weider was a unifying force for this
assortment of countries, despite the political differences that separated some of them. Weider is one of
the rare Canadians to have received four distinguished honours: the Order of Canada, l’Ordre du Québec,
l’Ordre de Saint-Jean, as well as the French Legion of Honor.
Ben Weider is also a notable collector of Napoleonic memorabilia. He has over 80 items, many of which
are remarkable for having been used by the Emperor himself. The items have all been authenticated by
experts. He intends to leave this important and priceless historical collection a major international
museum, the Museum of Fine Arts in Montreal.
Before his death on St. Helena, Napoleon Bonaparte said, “The great works I have accomplished and the
codes of law I have fashioned will survive the test of time, and future historians will avenge the wrongs that
my contemporaries have inflicted on me.” Ben Weider considers himself part of the group of historians
putting the truth back into history.
A theory goes through three stages before being accepted as truth. The first stage is ridicule – the theory
is mocked. In the second stage, the theory is criticized and violently attacked. Finally, in stage three, the
sound basis of the theory is unanimously acknowledged and it is accepted as the truth. Ben Weider’s
theory on Napoleon’s poisoning is now in the third stage, but it took almost half a century to bring about
an open-minded impartial evaluation of the facts.
During the year 2005 he knew an immense satisfaction whereas its theory of the poisoning of Napoleon
was finally recognized scientifically in Paris. This conclusion to his personal efforts of almost 40 years
to prove the veracity of its thesis was for him significant as much than its other successes on the level
of physical conditioning. Ben Weider is also very proud of his title of Colonel of the 62th military
Régiment of Shawinigan.
What will Ben Weider, the Canadian bug that refused to be squashed, take on as his next challenge?
He will probably pursue his work on Napoleon and write more books. He has successfully faced the
struggles life has brought, but there are always new battles and adventures to tackle. Weider does not
intend to take things easy.
“My life has been one long journey that I’ve lived with passion. I think that if you want something, you can
get it.I’ve realized my dreams, and I encourage anyone who has a dream to pursue it.
My next books might even deal with the subject,” says Ben Weider.
The businessman and historian Ben Weider died Friday October 17 2008 at the Jewish Hospital in
Montreal. He was 85 years old.
Ben Weider was a great supporter of the project LeStudio1.com and a friend Bernard Bujold who
considered him as his spiritual father.
This death occured a few days before the inauguration of the permanent exhibition at the
Museum of Fine Arts in Montreal about Napoleon. Weider had bequeathed his personal collection at
In addition to having been a pioneer in the field of fitness and have helped to develop athletes as
Arnold Schwarzenegger, Weider was also a historian and he has shown that Napoleon was poisoned
Despite its world-renowned Ben Weider has always refused to leave Montreal and he was very proud
to be born in Quebec.
A funeral ceremony has been held Monday October 20 2008 in Montreal.
Note that the President of France promoted, by decree dated 28 October 2008,
Ben Weider to the rank of Officer of the Legion of Honor posthumously to.
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