Strongman Joe Rollino Dies At 104

Joe Rollino was once known as the world's strongest man. And at the age of 104, he was no longer bending steel, but he was still taking daily walks in his Brooklyn neighborhood. Rollino died Monday after being hit by a van on one of those walks.

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ROBERT SIEGEL, host:

Joe Rollino was a legend in Brooklyn. He was a dockworker, a boxer and a Coney Island carnival strongman. He died yesterday at age 104.

NPR's Robert Smith has his story.

ROBERT SMITH: Joe Rollino wasn't the tallest man you've ever seen.

Mr. LOUIS SCARCELLA: He was about 5'5", I guess.

SMITH: He wasn't the biggest, either.

Mr. SCARCELLA: About 145 pounds.

SMITH: But Louis Scarcella remembers him as a miracle of nature.

Mr. SCARCELLA: He was like muscles strapped to bone. Pound for pound, I think he was the strongest man in the world.

SMITH: And we're not talking here about the young Joe Rollino. This was a man over 100 years old still bending quarters with his teeth and amazing everyone he met. Louis Scarcella is a former Brooklyn homicide detective who grew up in Coney Island. He says he heard stories about Joe all his life and got to meet him in his later days.

Mr. SCARCELLA: He had charisma, and you could feel the electricity.

SMITH: Much of what is known about Joe Rollino came from interviews later in his life and from local legend. Carnival feats of strength are not verified by any official body. An article in Ironman magazine said that he began as a traveling strongman at the age of 10. He later boxed under the name of Kid Dundee. But it was as a Coney Island attraction that he became famous. He told ESPN magazine that he could once lift 635 pounds with just a single finger.

This was the legend. The reality was that until yesterday, he was still active, walking five miles every day and taking part in the polar bear plunge, you know, where seemingly sane people swim in the freezing cold water in the middle of winter off of Coney Island. That's how Scarcella, a fellow polar bear, came to know Rollino.

Mr. SCARCELLA: I heard that he swam every day for eight years and didn't miss a day.

SMITH: Rollino was hit and killed by a minivan early yesterday morning while he was on his daily walk. The driver wasn't charged. And while Rollino's name may not have made any official record books, Scarcella says that his death is another lost connection with the golden age of Coney Island.

Mr. SCARCELLA: He was a strongman. Up until the day he died, he was a strongman, and there are not enough of them around anymore.

SMITH: Mostly what's left from the carnival era is stories, like the one about the 104-year-old strongman who could still bend a quarter with his teeth.

Robert Smith, NPR News, New York.

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