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RIP Big Jim Williams

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Big Jim Williams - Bob Hoffman - John Kuc

Weightlifter ‘Chimesy’ Williams Dies


James “Chimesy” Williams, a mammoth Scranton man who captured the city’s attention in the 1970s and ’80s with a prolific weight lifting career and a checkered life away from the gym, died Tuesday.

He was 66.

Powerlifting became a hobby for Williams in 1966; by 1968, it had become a passion. Not long after California police officer Pat Casey became the first powerlifter to bench press 600 pounds, Williams topped that. During a competition in Bordentown, N.J., in 1971, he pressed 661 pounds — beating the world record of 655 he had set earlier in the day. He also squatted 860 pounds that day.

He would press 675 in 1973, the official world record and more than twice his own body weight. In an unsanctioned lift while working out with the U.S. Olympic Weight Lifting Team, he pressed 705 pounds. Ultimately, he’d press 720 pounds, an unofficial record that stood for more than 19 years.

It’s the only thing that’s ever gotten me motivated,” Williams said in 1986.

Williams became as well-known in the courtroom as he did around the nation as a powerlifter.

Williams admitted to playing part in the beating and robbery of a man in 1961, when he was 21. He, another man and a 17-year-old took $80 and a wristhingych. Williams was sentenced to five to 10 years in prison.

It was only the beginning.

A decade later, the U.S. Secret Service charged Williams with counterfeiting, alleging he and a group of men printed and sold — or attempted to sell — $5 bills. He ultimately was sentenced to two years in prison.

In 1981, he was sentenced to five years in federal prison after his conviction on Social Security fraud charges. Before that trial, city police arrested him on cocaine trafficking charges. Early in 1982, a jury acquitted him on four drug-delivery counts, but did convict him on one count each of possession of a controlled substance with intent to deliver and criminal conspiracy.

In all, Williams spent 11 years of his life behind bars, where he was presented with humanitarian awards for establishing inmate weightlifting programs.

In 1986 — just before his release from prison — he announced that he was a born-again Christian. He became active as an elder in the Bethel AME Church and spent the last two decades of his life in relative anonymity. By 1993, he had begun his third existence — as an author. He penned the book “Northern Fried Chicken,” a self-described historical adventure into Scranton’s black community. Williams said he decided to write the book as a legacy to his children, but it became a greater calling when he and a neighbor searched for background of Scranton’s history at the public library and found only three paragraphs about the black community.

Williams said he hoped that by writing the book, the struggles of the black community would be understood better. He also hoped it would help him be remembered more for his writing and weightlifting than his criminal history.

“I turned my life around years ago,” Williams said in 1993. “Who am I that I can’t do something wrong? We’ve all done wrong. I did wrong, and I paid for it.”


The following info was provided by powerlifting legend Vince Anello…

“I lifted in many meets with Big Jim.He is a Great Lifter as Well as a Great Person!!! My Heart is Saddened by this news.When it is my turn I know that I will be in the company of a lot of the Greats 0f our Fine Sport that have passed!!!! God Bless you Big Jim!!!!” ~ Vince Anello

Big Jim Williams Bench Presses Raw 625 lbs

The following information was provided by David Harrington…

Williams actually benched 675 in 1972 not ‘73. This lift took place at the 1972 AAU World’s Powerlifting Championships which was held in conjunction with the 1972 AAU Mr. World Competition. I was fortunate enough to actually be there. Ironage member, Lou Ferrigno was there too as a spectator. Lou used to come to the “World’s” every year when they were held in Harrisburg and York, PA.

I was 13 years old at the time and it was the first time I had ever attended any competitions. I was very impressed by Williams’ power on the platform and muscular development. After the competition I went back stage and met Williams and many of the other competitors. I remember Williams was dressed in slacks and a sweater. He had tremendous back development with incredibly thick traps that seemed to sprout from somewhere behind his ears. His delts and arms were HUGE! Williams’ chest was so big he could easily rest his chin on his pecs! Jim Williams was a MONSTER !

Williams’ 675 pound/306.17 bench press in ‘72 was done with power to spare. His attempt with 700 lbs/317.5 kilo was very close. Keep in mind that Bench Press Shirts didn’t exist till the 1980’s. Even today, 35 years later there are very few men in the world who bench press those weights without support gear.

Back then the order of events was BP-SQ-DL so Jim had gotten off to a good start leading Kuc by 75 pounds. Unfortunately due to what looked to me to be balance problems Jim only managed 825 lb in the squat which was well below his squat world record of 861 lbs. Kuc was a much better deadlifter and was able to come from behind and win handily. Williams 675 pound bench press went into the books as an American Record because it was done one year before the International Powerlifting Federation (IPF) was formed and began keeping “official” world records. Since the IPF didn’t recognize the 675 as a world record, Williams was not able to get his lift into the Guinness Book of Records though it clearly deserved to be listed.

It seemed to me that Williams had a deep reserve of strength and I expected him to set many more world records. However, to the best of my knowledge, the 1972 AAU World Powerlifting Championships was his last competition.

Rest in peace, Big Jim.


1971 Big Jim Williams

1971 Big Jim Williams

Some more info I found on the web…

Powerlifter Overlooked


Well, you did it! You really blew this one. I didn’t think it to be possible, but you actually forgot one of the area’s greatest athletes. I held out hope as each day passed. But it was not to be. I’ll never forget the first time I ever saw him, when I was a young lad of 8, back in the late 60’s, at the YMCA on Mulberry St. It was the first time in my short existence that I felt my jaw hitting the floor! How can you not rePower Member a man that was 6 foot tall and 330 pounds! In his sport, he has been referred to as “a pioneer”, “an athlete ahead of his time”, and “one of the greatest of all time”. He held several American records, recognized by the AAU. His Pennsylvania record lasted over 21 years. By today’s standards, he would have held the World Record, although the governing body at that time would not recognize his lifts. A training method is actually named after him. His name is well known by athletes of this sport all over the world. He is, without a doubt, the strongest athlete to ever come out of Northeast, PA. They called him “the big black bear”. Figure it out yet? How about James/Jim “Chimsey” Williams.

Yes, he has quite the checkered past. However, the guidelines you laid down mentioned nothing about the athlete having to he been an exemplary citizen, without faults. On Nov. 9, 1972, Mr. Williams competed in the World Powerlifting Championships in Harrisburg. He had earlier broken the record of the great Pat Casey (who had bench pressed 617 pounds) in 1971 at the Eastern USA Open with a 635-pound American record. On Nov. 6, 1971 he set another record with a 660-pound bench press. At the 1972 World’s he bench pressed 675 pounds for what should have been a world record. Unfortunately, Jim Williams’ records were not recognized as being world records. The powerlifting governing body of the day would not validate his lifts even though they were sanctioned by the AAU in a World Powerlifting event.

It has been said that the highest raw bench press ever may have been Williams’ 720 which was unofficial, but done in front the US Olympic weightlifting team at York in the early 70s. Back then, the lifter had to remove the bar from the rack, lower it then return it. No handoffs. There is not a bench press book in the world that doesn’t mention his name.

“. . . my friend Jimmy Williams. Anyone who could bench press 675 the way he did, it just put your mind in another world!!! Jimmy Williams 675 bench press was unreal. He took 700 on a third and had it 3/4 of the way up. If he had done it in today’s meets he would have been credited with it. Can you think of what Williams would have done with a bench shirt?” – Interview with Don Reinhoudt, First and Only 4 Time-in-a-row IPF Superheavyweight Champion, July 8th, 1998.

The omission of James/Jim “Chimsey” Williams is truly a travesty.

Delbert “Bert” James Jr. Scranton


* To read about how Big Jim Williams Trained click here.

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