Bill Austin, Industry Pioneer & IHRSA Co-founder, Passes Away at 80

    The former rowing coach significantly impacted the health and fitness industry and is memorialized in the Gold’s Gym National Hall of Fame.

    The health and fitness world is once again mourning the loss of a longtime leader. William “Bill” Austin, an IHRSA founding father and one of the architects of the modern health club industry, died on Friday, April 14.

    Born in Brooklyn, NY, Bill was a former rowing coach at Marist College in Poughkeepsie, NY, before becoming a popular industry leader. He ran successful health clubs in New York for more than 45 years, including several Gold’s Gym franchises. His track record as a coach, health club operator, and promoter of active living earned him the nickname, the “Godfather of Fitness.”

    As the head crew coach at Marist College, Bill recruited talented rowers, founded the women’s crew program, and won the Dad Vail Regatta—the largest collegiate regatta in the U.S.—in 1972. He also taught physical education and health, worked in the Alumni Relations and Development office, and served on the U.S. Olympic Rowing Committee.

    In 1978, Bill left coaching to pursue his passion for fitness, becoming one of the founders of All Sport Fitness & Racquet Club. Shortly after opening the facility, Bill became a founding member of IHRSA, serving on the search committee that selected John McCarthy as executive director.

    Bill Austin Passes Column Width Listing Image

    "Warm, friendly, and always fun to be with are just a few of the words that describe Bill Austin,” recalls John. “He was one of the warmest and friendliest men that I ever had the pleasure of knowing."

    Bill subsequently purchased several health clubs in Dutchess County, NY, and Connecticut, which he later converted to Gold’s Gyms. He was so successful at building the brand that Gold’s Gym International inducted him into the Gold’s Gym National Hall of Fame at its 35th annual convention in 2016.

    Among Bill’s accomplishments cited by Gold’s Gym leadership was his commitment to community service. Bill’s business, Gold’s Gym Dutchess County (GGDC), supported more than 70 organizations, including local youth programs, breast cancer charities, the American Heart Association, and the American Diabetes Association.

    Upon receiving the award from Gold’s, he remarked, “I’ve always wanted to change peoples lives.”

    Tributes Pour In

    Bill was well-known for living up to the pledge to change peoples lives. After the news of his passing, many honored Bill as a friend and mentor who helped them succeed in the health and fitness industry.

    “In my life, there are so many people who have done so much to help, and Bill Austin was one of them,” says Brian O’Rourke, CEO of Vedere Ventures. “His passing last Friday marked a very sad day for me along with his many friends, colleagues, and family. We worked with him as a distributor of Les Mills New Zealand group fitness along with Gold’s Gym and the Gold’s Gym Franchisee Association (GFFA). As a founding member of IHRSA, and longtime licensee of the Gold’s Gym brand, I know he will be missed.”

    Bill Austin Passes Column Width

    Bill Austin, second from right, is inducted into the Gold’s Gym National Hall of Fame in 2016. Also pictured are former GGFA President J.C. Custard, Bill’s daughter Kim Austin Kenyon, and former Gold’s Gym CEO Brandon Bean.

    “We’ve lost one of the truly great ones,” says Mike Epstein, a consultant who served as vice president of Gold’s Gym from 1992 to 2020. “Bill was a friend, mentor, and father figure, and he helped so many. Lots of love, prayers, and thoughts to his amazing family. I will be one of the many who will miss him dearly.”

    “Bill was one of the very first people I met in the fitness industry almost two decades ago,” said Adam Zeitsiff, former president and CEO of Gold’s Gym. “Such a kind and generous man and someone who helped forge so many paths for the Gold’s Gym family. I will be forever grateful for knowing him.”

    Allison Porter, vice president of strategic partnerships for Hydromassage and member of Chief, writes, “Bill was such a wonderful, caring man. During our last visit, it was so nice to hear how involved he was with his grandkids. Love for his family was always at the center of his life. Bill is a legend in the Northeast, paving the way for many people at Gold’s and otherwise. Healing prayers and thoughts to his family and community.”

    Bill lived an active lifestyle as a passionate skier, hunter, and fisherman well into his later years. A longtime resident of Poughkeepsie, he was personally active in the Hudson Valley community, belonging to many local organizations and serving on numerous boards and committees, including the Lions Club of Pleasant Valley and the Hudson Valley Boy Scouts.

    Bill’s spirit lives on through his wife, Jane, of 57 years, his daughter Kim Austin Kenyon and husband Dave Kenyon, his son Billy and wife Becky, and three grandchildren, Kyra, Austin, and Beatrix.

    To send an online condolence message, visit William G. Miller & Son Funeral Home. In lieu of flowers, the family asks for donations to Family Services of Poughkeepsie.

    Patricia Armend

    Patricia Armend is a contributor to