Bob Paris, Former Mr. Universe, Talks About Coming Out: 'My Life Was Threatened' (VIDEO)

02/25/2014 09:45 am ET | Updated Feb 25, 2014

In the 1980s, the chiseled Bob Paris was seen as the picture-perfect macho man. He had risen to the top of his game as a professional bodybuilder, earning the coveted title of Mr. Universe in 1983. The public celebrated his athleticism and admired his physical strength -- but it was one deliberate act in 1989 that would test Paris' true limits.

At a time when a Los Angeles Times poll reported that nearly 70 percent of the country thought homosexuality was a sin, Paris stunned the world by coming out as a gay man. That same year, Paris wed boyfriend Rod Jackson and appeared on "The Oprah Winfrey Show" to discuss the marriage.

"Bob, why not just stay in the closet?" Oprah asked back then.

"You fall in love. When Rod and I met, we found a spiritual bond between each other," Paris explains. "If you bastardize it and you stick it back in your back pocket where no one can see it, then pretty soon you chip away pieces of that bit by bit, until you have absolutely nothing left."

Paris and Jackson became instant symbols for gay marriage, actively speaking on and advocating for gay rights. However, as the two made headlines, Paris' career suffered. He opened up about life after coming out on an episode of "Oprah: Where Are They Now?"

"For me, the repercussions [of coming out] were tremendous," Paris says. "I lost about 80 percent of my business. Literally had doors closed in my face... There were a number of times where my life was threatened. Some death threats came by phone, by mail."

Paris' personal life was also adversely affected, particularly his relationship with Jackson. "We were very different people. We had very different ideas in our approaches to the world. I tried my best to continuously keep the relationship going even when I knew better," Paris admits. "I felt I would be letting down the cause, that I would be at giving fuel to people who hated gay people and said we couldn't sustain relationships and were anti-equal marriage."

After seven years together, Paris and Jackson broke up. Then, in 1997, Paris met Brian LeFurgey, now his husband.

"Being able to finally make our marriage legal in 2003 healed a spot in my soul that had been wounded from the time I was 14 years old and first realized I was a gay man living in a culture that told me I was less than," Paris says. "Here I was, suddenly being treated as a whole person."

Today, Paris and LeFurgey live on an island in British Columbia, where the former bodybuilder now focuses on his writing career.

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