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Fame & Fortune
Billy Blanks
Billy Blanks
Fitness guru puts his money back on the street
Celebrity interview

Fame & Fortune: Billy Blanks

Billy Blanks, Tae Bo creator and motivational speaker, asks a lot of questions: What is physical fitness's great enemy? What is the most powerful thing in the world? What does man think of man?

But the 50-plus fitness innovator, who became an overnight sensation in the late 1990s, seems to have the answers as he speaks to his large audiences. The Erie, Pa., native knows all too well about self-limitations. It wasn't until he was 35 years old that Blanks was finally diagnosed with dyslexia, which had impeded his learning ability and his financial success.

Physical limitations also proved challenging for this 6-foot, 185-pound, seven-time world karate champion. Blanks took his first martial arts class at age 11 and discovered how the movements helped him correct a hip joint anomaly which impaired his movement. Short tendons that wouldn't stretch or exhibit flexibility held Blanks down until he began to push himself beyond his own boundaries through determination, discipline and spirituality.

From Erie to Los Angeles via Boston, Blanks took his energy and enthusiasm with him and soon began to assemble a celebrity following, which foreshadowed his financial success. He first taught classes in his garage and then opened the Billy Blanks World Training Center. Paula Abdul -- pre-"American Idol" -- became his first star client. Word-of-mouth quickly brought Hollywood figures in need of reshaping to his Sherman Oaks, Calif., gym. Pamela Anderson, Lisa Rinna, Goldie Hawn, Vivica A. Fox, Neve Campbell and Queen Latifah are just a few who began to push themselves and step out of the box.

Blanks became a pop-culture sensation after he began mass marketing his workout videos in 1998 -- eventually selling more than 8 million DVDs, videos and CDs. Along the way, he captained the U.S. karate team, won 36 gold medals in international competitions and earned admission to the Karate Hall of Fame in 1982, along with appearing in more than 20 films, videos and TV shows.

Most days, you'll find Blanks conducting early morning Tae Bo classes and a few martial arts classes in his studio. When not there, he might be found with the U.S. troops somewhere. Through his three-year dedication with them, he developed "Billy's Boot Camp," a fitness DVD. He's also created The Billy Blanks Foundation which funds programs designed to empower disadvantaged youth.

He reflects on his rise to success.

Bankrate: Your childhood meant you had few opportunities afforded you.

Billy Blanks: I was the fourth of 15 children to poor African-American parents. The streets were pretty mean where I grew up in Erie, Pa., and I was placed in special education classes because of my dyslexia that went undiagnosed. I had to make my own opportunities and teach myself so that I could get ahead. My wife had to read everything for me. When I was acting, I would have her read and coach read me the whole script; I would memorize everyone else's lines along with mine.

Bankrate: You used to teach classes in a makeshift studio in your home basement when you moved to Los Angeles?

Next: "Basically I was doing a workout for myself."
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