“Arnold”: The 6 most shocking revelations from Arnold Schwarzenegger’s intimate Netflix docuseries

The ex-bodybuilder, actor and politician opens up about his life and prior scandals in three hour-long episodes

By Joy Saha

Staff Writer

Published June 8, 2023 9:18PM (EDT)

Arnold Schwarzenegger from "Arnold" (Photo courtesy of Netflix)
Arnold Schwarzenegger from "Arnold" (Photo courtesy of Netflix)

It's not hard to understand why Arnold Schwarzenegger is deemed to be living a blessed life.

After all, Schwarzenegger rose to fame as a bodybuilding champion — ultimately securing an impressive record of five Mr. Universe wins and seven Mr. Olympia wins —  which helped launch his careers in both acting and politics. Everything he wanted seemingly fell onto his lap. But behind those grand achievements were years of hardship, grit and perseverance, according to a new documentary.    

Schwarzenegger's story, from his troubled childhood to his success achieving the American Dream and more, is chronicled by Schwarzenegger himself in Netflix's docuseries, "Arnold." The three-part series features additional interviews with Schwarzenegger's mentors, personal trainers and close comrades, including fellow actors Jamie Lee Curtis and Danny DeVito. There's also considerable focus on Schwarzenegger's scandals, namely his 1996 affair, along with the highs and lows of his expansive career. By the end of the three hours, the docuseries paints a well-rounded portrait of Schwarzenegger, leaving viewers to decide whether they'd like to stand by his side or detest him.

From Schwarzenegger's heartbreaking recollection of his brother's sudden death to the "smoking tent" he had while serving as governor of California, here are the six most shocking revelations from the docuseries:

Schwarzenegger said his troubled upbringing made him stronger but ultimately, "destroyed" his brother
ArnoldArnold Schwarzenegger from "Arnold" (Photo courtesy of Netflix)

Shortly after Schwarzenegger returned to Austria from Baltimore and Philadelphia — where he did a series of posing exhibitions — he received word that his brother, Meinhard Schwarzenegger, had died in a car accident. Meinhard was driving under the influence and fatally hit a telephone pole.


Earlier in the documentary, Schwarzenegger recalled his strained yet loving relationship with Meinhard. The pair were constantly in competition throughout their childhoods, whether that was their performance in school or their abilities to pick out the best Mother's Day gift. 


"He was always the darling of the family," Schwarzenegger said of his brother. "He was very artistic. Very smart. Read a lot. But I don't think my brother ever was really happy. I think he started drinking because our upbringing was very tough."


Schwarzenegger continued, saying he and his brother routinely received beatings from their parents. The brothers also witnessed their father's "schizophrenic behavior" at home. Gustav Schwarzenegger would often come home drunk and start screaming during the early hours of the morning before unleashing his anger on his wife and children.


"The kind of upbringing that we had was beneficial for someone like me, who was inside, very strong and very determined," Schwarzenegger added. "But my brother was more fragile. Nietzsche was right, that that what does not kill you, will make you stronger. The very thing that made me who I am today was the very thing that destroyed him."

Schwarzenegger said Maria Shriver "has a really nice" butt when he first met her
Arnold Schwarzenegger and Maria ShriverArnold Schwarzenegger and Maria Shriver during 2003 Cannes Film Festival - "Les Egares" Premiere at Palais Des Festival in Cannes, France. (Jean Baptiste Lacroix/WireImage/Getty Images)

Schwarzenegger was introduced to his now ex-wife while meeting the Kennedy family at the Robert F. Kennedy Memorial Tennis Tournament. He recalled meeting Shriver's mother Eunice Kennedy Shriver, who "came up to me and said, 'It's so good to have you here. By the way, this is my daughter Maria Shriver,'" Schwarzenegger said. 


"Then, later on she said, 'My daughter is really fond of you,' and I said, 'Well, your daughter has a really nice a**. I have to tell you that.'"


Schwarzenegger continued, "What a stupid thing to say. I don't even know why I said it."


The pair met in 1977 and later tied the knot in 1986. They have four children together: Katherine, Christina, Patrick and Christopher. On May 9, 2011, Shriver and Schwarzenegger ended their relationship after 25 years of marriage. Their divorce was finalized in 2021.


When recounting his relationship with Shriver, Schwarzenegger said, "I really fell in love with Maria, not because she was a Kennedy but because she had an extraordinary personality. I could see that little rebel in her. I wanted to escape from Austria, she also wanted to escape. That was the beginning of Maria and I."

Schwarzenegger endured rigorous training to play Conan the Barbarian
Arnold Schwarzenegger on the set of Conan the BarbarianAustrian-born American actor Arnold Schwarzenegger on the set of Conan the Barbarian, directed by John Milius. (Dino De Laurentiis/Universal Pictures/Sunset Boulevard/Corbis via Getty Images)

Schwarzenegger's big break in Hollywood was when he landed the lead role of Conan the Barbarian, thanks to director John Milius, who believed Schwarzenegger had the build and persona to play the fictional sword and sorcery hero.


Schwarzenegger said shooting for the film was "tough" because Milius wanted him to be "out there in the cold, freezing [his] a** off." 


"I did all my own stunts. There was no one around with the body," Schwarzenegger continued. "So therefore, I had to do everything myself. It was fine the first take. Then we did the second take. Third take, fourth take. And eventually, I was now really bleeding."


Schwarzenegger added that he was a "fanatic" about preparation and refused to show up on set unprepared for his stunts. He routinely completed samurai training, grappling training and broadsword training beginning at five in the morning. He also took part in hours of horseback riding because he wanted to "feel one with the horse."


"Conan the Barbarian" became an international hit shortly after its premiere. The film series also marked a transformation in Schwarzenegger's career; he was no longer Arnold the bodybuilder but rather, Arnold the actor.

Schwarzenegger fessed up to his past groping allegations 
ArnoldArnold Schwarzenegger from "Arnold" (Photo courtesy of Netflix)

The allegations in question first arose just days before Schwarzenegger was elected governor in 2003, when a report from The Los Angeles Times detailed several allegations of groping, making lewd sexual suggestions and trying to remove one woman's bathing suit in an elevator. The paper also quoted one woman as saying, "Did he rape me. No. Did he humiliate me? You bet he did."


Carla Hall, the reporter behind that story, said in the documentary, "We found a pattern of behavior that took place over decades." Once the story ran, however, people responded with anger and outcry.


"People immediately accused us of holding the story until five days before the election," Hall said. "It ran on Oct. 2 because that's how long it took."


Schwarzenegger confessed that "in the beginning I was kind of defensive," when asked about the allegations.  


"Today I can look at it and say it doesn't really matter what time it is, if it's the Muscle Beach days of 40 years ago or today, this was wrong," he added. "It was bulls**t. Forget all the excuses, it was wrong."

Schwarzenegger set up a "smoking tent" once he became governor
ArnoldArnold Schwarzenegger from "Arnold" (Photo courtesy of Netflix)

The tent, which was set up shortly after Schwarzenegger was sworn in as governor of California, was "not so much about smoking" but rather, "just a social place."


"We were very successful in bringing legislators down, Democrats and Republicans, and I just sat outside in the tent and schmoozed with them," Schwarzenegger said. "These were total strangers."


It didn't take long for Schwarzenegger's "smoking tent" to become a place of intrigue. Columnist Joe Mathews said, "The smoking tent is not a tent. The smoking tent is a stage. All the people in the offices up and in his office could see who was in the smoking tent. 'Why am I not in the tent talking to him? I need an idea that goes there.'"


Mathews continued, "It's unsettling, because people that met with him could see that they were being watched. He's [Schwarzenegger] totally comfortable being watched."

While in couples counseling, Schwarzenegger admitted to Shriver that he fathered a child in an affair
ArnoldJoseph Baena from "Arnold" (Photo courtesy of Netflix)

Schwarzenegger opened up about his affair, saying he finally confessed to his wife during a session of couples counseling.


"Maria and I went to counseling once a week, and in one of the sessions the counselor said, 'I think today Maria wants to be very specific about something. She wants to know if you are the father of Joseph?'" Arnold recounted. "And I was like — I thought my heart stopped and then I told the truth."


He continued, "'Yes, Maria, Joseph is my son.' She was crushed because of that. I had an affair in '96. In the beginning I really didn't know. I just started feeling the older he got the more it became clear to me, and then it was really just a matter of how do you keep this quiet? How do you keep this a secret?"


It was later revealed that Schwarzenegger had an affair with his housekeeper, Mildred Patricia Baena. Schwarzenegger called his affair a "major failure" but maintained that he never wanted his son, Joseph Baena, to feel "unwanted."


As for Schwarzenegger and Shriver, the couple called it quits in May 2011.

"Arnold" is currently available for streaming on Netflix. Watch a trailer for the series below, via YouTube:


By Joy Saha

Joy Saha is a staff writer at Salon. She writes about food news and trends and their intersection with culture. She holds a BA in journalism from the University of Maryland, College Park.