Ben Weider, the Canadian who helped turn body building from a fringe activity into a worldwide fitness phenomenon, died suddenly in Montreal on Friday. He was 85.

Weider, along with his older brother Joe, spent six decades promoting body building. He founded the International Brotherhood of Body Builders (IBBB), led the fitness revolution in the 1970s, and helped legitimize weight training, which was once a "reviled, fringe activity," according to a press release by Weider Health and Fitness.

"Beginning in 1947, Ben traveled the world, promoting his sport, organizing exhibitions and competitive events ... At the height of Cold War tensions, he courted sports officials of militantly anti-Western regimes in the then-Soviet Union and Communist China," said the press release.

Weider and his brother also set up fitness centres, sold weight-lifting equipment, and promoted nutritional supplements specifically designed for body building.

Ben Weider also campaigned to include body building in the Olympics, which was temporarily granted provisional status in 1998.

But body building was not Weider's only passion. He dabbled extensively in Napoleonic history, collecting artifacts and even founding the International Napoleonic Society. He also co-authored a book on the 19th-Century French leader.

Partly because of those efforts, Weider received the Legion of Honor, France's highest national honor, in 2000. And in the 1990s, Florida State University created the Ben Weider Eminent Scholar Chair in Napoleonic History.

Weider, who was born in Montreal and was the son of poor Polish immigrants who settled in the city's old Jewish quarter, was also awarded the order of Canada in 1975. He became an officer of the Order in 2005.

He is survived by his wife, three sons, two grandchildren, a sister, and his brother Joe.