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Real-Life Hero Lives On: The Story of Lou Ferrigno, the Original Hulk

Updated: Dec 19, 2023

Having hearing loss never stopped Lou Ferrigno from achieving his dreams.

Lou Ferrigno - The Incredible Hulk Images credit to The Five Court
The Hulk lives on! Actor Lou Ferrigno in an exclusive interview with The Five Count radio show in Mankato, Minn. To hear the entire show, visit

The story of Lou Ferrigno is truly inspiring, especially for deaf children and their hearing parents. Despite facing significant challenges due to his hearing loss, he chased his dreams and became one of the most iconic figures in popular culture. Lou's passion for bodybuilding and his love for comics helped him find hope and connection. He overcame bullying and isolation by working hard and never feeling sorry for himself. Lou's story is a testament to the power of perseverance, hard work, and dedication—he shows kids (and adults) that anything is possible if you believe in yourself. Lou's decision to undergo cochlear implant surgery at age sixty-nine is an inspiring example, showing that it's never too late to make a positive change in your life. Lou continues to be an advocate for the Deaf community. Read on to learn all about Lou Ferrigno!

The HULK Lives On!

This week, my grandson received a box of new clothes. Right on top of the stack was a black T-shirt with a bright green figure of the Hulk. My seven-year-old grandson assured me the Hulk is still as popular as ever.

Lou Ferrigno’s Hearing Loss Challenges

Lou Ferrigno was born November 9, 1951, in Brooklyn, New York City, of Italian descent. He went on to become the Hulk in 1977 at age twenty-seven. It took hard work, dedication, and a big dream. Lou had severe hearing loss at a young age. Several childhood ear infections left Lou with nerve damage in both ears and eighty-five percent hearing loss by age three. 

Life is full of fascinating and diverse individuals, each with their own unique qualities and characteristics. Unfortunately, when someone's differences are more noticeable, they can often become the target of negative behavior such as teasing, bullying, and exclusion. One such individual was Lou, who as a child, struggled to hear everything that was said and developed a speech impediment. This only added to the bullying he experienced from his classmates. However, Lou's father arranged for him to attend lip reading classes across town after school to help him better understand what people were saying, which helped him overcome many of the challenges he faced.

Lou’s dad pushed him never to feel sorry for himself, yet Lou states he had “kind of a love-and-hate relationship with my father growing up because he had a hard time accepting me having a handicap” (“Lou Ferrigno Interview 1/2” 2010).

Lou goes on to say that his hearing loss “had a huge effect on my life because it made me different than everybody else. It made me very introverted as a child.”

Comics, Bodybuilding, and Lou’s Calling

Lou found hope and connection in comics. Spider-Man and the Hulk, whom he fell in love with, were his favorite comic strip characters. Lou says, “It [reading comics] was very therapeutic for me because it gave me a chance to escape and fantasize that someday that's the direction I wanna go, that's the kind of superhero I'd like to become” (Fletcher 2022). 

He began bodybuilding. He worked out in his backyard with homemade equipment. Before long, he was sold on working out:

“It was an obsession to me. I had to do it – it meant to me more than anything… It gave a tremendous boost to my self-esteem, even though, at the time, bodybuilding was a shallow sport, and everyone was kind of against it. I would get ridiculed by my friends; they kept laughing at me. But I didn't let it affect me because every time I trained, it made me feel good about myself” (Fletcher 2022). 

Hard work, dedication, and inspiration found in bodybuilding magazines fueled his passion and drive; at twenty-one, Lou won his first Mr. Universe title.

Lou continued to bodybuild and finally, at age twenty-seven, realized his dream of being the Hulk. Writer, director, and producer Kenneth Johnson was searching for the perfect actor to play the Hulk on the big screen. Although the role was originally intended for Arnold Schwarzenegger, Lou’s audition and screen test proved to the crew that he was the perfect fit to play the Hulk (Güimil 2022). Lou had landed his motion picture debut!

Becoming the Hulk on the Big Screen

Because of Lou's hearing loss, he had to work hard to pay attention to catch everything being said on the set of the movie. 

“I knew I had to pay special attention because I had to read lips constantly,” he later told People Magazine (Mazziotta 2021). He disliked being treated differently on set whenever his hearing aid malfunctioned. Lou remedied this by wearing two hearing aids so he wouldn’t miss out on hearing what was going on around him.

Lou’s film career took off—he went on to play in Hercules in 1983 and the big-budget remake of Hulk in 2003.

Lou is an example of the limitless potential a person can have. Being the Hulk was just the beginning of his many achievements. Because of his huge success, he had opportunities for motivational speaking. His wife, Carla Green, and three children, Shannan, Lou Jr., and Brent, were all active in the health, fitness, and bodybuilding communities. Carla was Lou’s manager before they married. 

He also wrote three books: 

Lou’s Support of the Deaf Community—and His Life-Changing Experience 

At age sixty-nine, Lou Ferrigno—after sixty-six years of living with severe hearing loss and succeeding beyond all expectations as a bodybuilder and film star—opted for cochlear implant surgery. 

Lou shared the emotional experience with Inside Edition: "Now, because of the implant, I'm able to distinguish the different consonants, the different S sound. Everything you could ... I never heard before. And that is a life-changing experience." Within the first six weeks of the surgery, his word discrimination went from twenty percent up to sixty-six percent, which is an astounding leap in auditory abilities (Swindall 2021). 

Lou Ferrigno has been a superhero for children since 1977, and his legacy lives on. He continues to be supportive of the Deaf community. He serves as a spokesman for the Better Hearing Institute and contributes to the Starkey Hearing Foundation, which audiologist Angie Lederman describes as a foundation that “goes on missions nationally and globally, fitting people with hearing aids.” 

Lou serves the community through philanthropic efforts with the Muscular Dystrophy Association, the National Center for Missing and Exploited Children, and the St. Jude Children’s Research Hospital. 

Lou had a dream and let nothing and no one stop him. Along the way, good people were by his side to encourage and support him. “Lou says his hearing loss presented him with a challenge in life, and his journey has been filled with ups and downs, but he is not a quitter,” says Marta Belsky of Signing Savvy (2016).

Along the way, Lou also joined several police forces, serving twenty hours a week and volunteering as reserve sheriff deputy, sheriff posse, and reserve peace officer in various counties throughout California. Most recently, in New York, Lou was named an honorary officer with the Syracuse, New York police department. He said, “It's all about respecting that leadership because most kids today, there's no God, there's no respect. They have no respect for themselves. That's why I'm fortunate” (Hill 2022).

If Lou’s story resonated with you, or if you have another real-life Deaf hero you look up to, let me know in the comments!

Belsky, Marta. 2016. “Living Loud: Lou Ferrigno – The Incredible Hulk of Acting, Bodybuilding, Fitness Training, and Motivational Speaking | Signing Savvy Articles.” Signing Savvy. October 24, 2016.

“Lou Ferrigno Interview 1/2.” 2010.

Fletcher, Anna. 2022. “How Bullied and Deaf Lou Ferrigno Became the Hulk.” Eighties Kids (blog). December 2, 2022.

Güimil, Eva. 2022. “How Lou Ferrigno Became the Hulk: Green Paint, Contact Lenses and Two Buckets of Cement.” EL PAÍS English, October 27, 2022.

Hill, Bailee. 2022. “‘Hulk’ Actor Lou Ferrigno Named Honorary Officer at Syracuse Police Department: ‘They’re Heroes to Me.’” Fox News, August 29, 2022.

IMDb. n.d. “Kenneth Johnson.” IMDb.

IMDb. n.d. “Lou Ferrigno.”

Mazziotta, Julie. 2021. “Incredible Hulk’s Lou Ferrigno Is Fixing His Lifelong Hearing Problem: ‘A Dream Come True.’” PEOPLE.Com, May 21, 2021.

Swindall, Andrea. 2021. “‘INcreDible Hulk’ Star Lou Ferrigno in Tears after His Cochlear Implant Surgery.” Inside Edition, June 13, 2021.

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