Interview With Powerlifter Jamie "Big Evil" Harris As told to Powerlifting USA by Ben Tatar of CriticalBench.com - December 2009
"Jamie Harris was able to combine a hardcore image with a charismatic personality. He added entertainment value to the sport, and he was on top throughout the whole 90s era. Not only did Jamie make bench pressing fun to watch, but he dominated and had longevity throughout one of the best eras in bench press history. When you saw Jamie your blood would either burn because he was such a powerful person, or you felt like you were seeing a great friend. There will never be another Jamie Harris again."
Kara Bohigian Smith
"Jamie Harris was a great guy and he brought some much needed color to the game of powerlifting. I remember him saying, "Anthony do you hear me? Anthony do you hear me? And playfully taunting him, Jamie even had Priscilla believing that the king had returned."
Where has Jamie Harris been lately? What does Jamie Harris think about power lifting as he looks back? Who was Jamie Harris outside of being the World Record Holder who we all loved or loved to hate? Powerlifting USA brings you an in-depth look at one of the most colorful and one of the greatest benchers in bench press history.
CriticalBench: Jamie, welcome back to the powerlifting world. As any powerlifting fanatic knows you were on top of the powerlifting world not for a week, month or a year but for over a decade. Looking back at your powerlifting journey what was your favorite part?
Looking back, the best part of the sport was the camaraderie between friends, who are forever, your training and the fun after. Being friends with people in powerlifting is amazing because it is almost like being in war together. I have known lots of close people that have helped me. You need a support system to set world records. It's not like bodybuilding where you train by yourself all the time; it's a team. You also have the parties after the meets and all you can eat meals.
CriticalBench: When you got better in the sport of powerlifting what was it like? Did you experience more negativity as you improved?
It seems like when you're first starting out, everyone wants to help you, and then, when I benched a world record, people would ask if my shirt was magical or was blown up.
CriticalBench: What do you have to say about all the haters?
As far as the back biting and hatred goes, I have learned a lot from it. I have learned that the more people talk bad about you, the more you're doing something right.
CriticalBench: You're right. People like getting reactions out of the biggest stars or anyone who is on top. What don't you miss about powerlifting?
Well, when I got to a higher level, for every good meet, you would have ten bad ones back in the 90s. Being at the top level, you live in self torture, like this could be my last meet. If you did badly, you would live in misery for six months. You would feel only as good as your last meet. Sometimes it was hard for me to enjoy the powerlifting ride because I was too focused on getting to the top all the time.
CriticalBench: Jamie many people think you could have easily have broken the RAW bench press record if you had trained for it. What was your best raw bench?
I have raw benched 675 for 3 raw and 715lbs.
CriticalBench: What was your best incline bench and what was the most weight you have used doing skull crushers?
I incline benched 630, and I did skull crushers with 405 for reps.
CriticalBench: Jamie, how do you remember the sport now compared to when you competed?
Well, when you are in the mix of things, you have a whole different perspective. I can now look back in hindsight, I can say, "I did this or did that." When you're taken an ample amount of steroids, and everyone who takes stuff will tell you, the levels of paranoia, it plays mental games with you. You don't have time to enjoy the level you're at because you are always trying to improve.
It's more weight, the next meet so you're always trying to break records. I think my image has a bad rep, but I think it also added to my image. My image was that I was the Stone Cold Steve Austin of powerlifting type thing. At the time, I made the best decision I could. All in all, it was a great ride. God puts so many people on His earth, and you think of how many people could live their dreams like that? I was very lucky to climb to the level I did.
CriticalBench: The powerlifting world often portrayed you as a bad boy dare devil who made powerlifting exciting and who brought COLOR to the sport. As you said, the powerlifting world portrayed you as Stone Cold Steve Austin. What is Jamie like away from powerlifting?
I am just a very honest and real person. I support all my friends, but I am also going to be honest to bring out the best in others. I only help people who ask to be helped though. I am also a big goof.
CriticalBench: You definitely have a dynamic well rounded character. What was it was like back when you benched 600lbs?
Well, when I first benched 600lbs, it was at that time when not a lot of guys could bench 600. So, on a local level people are jealous of you. Then when you break off, you're on an island.
CriticalBench: It seems like a lot of people are having fun with you in this day as you do Elvis shows. Jamie, how are you different now compared to when you were the top bench presser in the world?
I am an Elvis Impersonator. I am more simplistic, more philosophical, and I'm not as angry as when I was younger. I'm also about 150lbs smaller, hahaha. I am better at problem solving and I have more patience. Being involved as an Elvis Impersonator has taught me tolerance.
CriticalBench: You have lost about 100-150 lbs of size since you were the best bencher in the world. What is that like for you? How does it feel to be so much lighter?
The biggest factor is that it sometimes doesn't register in my head. I haven't weighed 241lbs, since I was in 9th grade. When I was 380lbs, I was around people who understood it and respected it. Now I look at pictures of myself and I think "God, I can't believe I looked like that." Now that I do Elvis, I do more vocals. I had to look at myself in a different light, against average dudes who were 200lbs or so.
CriticalBench: What makes Jamie Harris different from everyone else?
I'm not afraid to do the things I want to do. I do what I need to do. I'm not your prototype world record bench holder. I think the Elvis thing shows that I've got strong points and weak points. I'm just not afraid to do what I want to do.
CriticalBench: How can we see some of your Elvis Shows?
Go to Youtube and type in, "Jamie Harris, Shadows of the King," I did a show in February. Check that out.
CriticalBench: For people just starting out in powerlifting what message would you like to give them?
Lift in the federation you want to lift in and don't let a federation sway you in your own needs. Make realistic goals. Stick with them, and have fun! When it becomes work and isn't fun anymore, get out!
CriticalBench: How do you want to people to remember you?
In powerlifting, I want to be remembered as a great bench presser .I want to be remembered as one of the guys who held the all time world record. I want people to remember me for being a decent guy.
CriticalBench: Tell us one great thing about powerlifting.
I must say that one of the great things about powerlifting is that nobody has been bigger than the sport of powerlifting. People come and go, powerlifting is a constant. People use powerlifting as a vehicle which is good, but it is important for other lifters to not lose themselves and where they came from.
CriticalBench: You have competed against Anthony Clark several times. What was that like?
Competing against Anthony Clark was like competing against one of my heroes. It was fantastic. I was 24 years old, and I was intimidated by Anthony. I think the media made us out to look like enemies, but I mean, "How could I want to destroy my hero?" That was all media stuff... I'm not saying I deserve to be on the same level he was on, but I wanted to win and beat him.
The more I got to know Anthony, the more we became friends. I handed it to him at the Arnold a bunch of times. There was a lot of trust. We trusted each other...Then as we got to know each other as people and not just competitors, our trust just kept building. When he worked at Pittsburgh, at first we were in the same office, like twenty feet away from each other. Anthony was an awesome person.
CriticalBench: What was it like for you when Anthony Clark died?
It was like an era in powerlifting died. It was like a big part of my life died. It was hard not to put myself in his shoes. It made me really cherish life more and not be as hardcore. I don't take my family for granted or my friends for granted. I am more worried about people than just accomplishments. I think accomplishments are important. Don't get me wrong, but I have had so many great friends.
CriticalBench: A lot of people think that the Jamie Harris/ Anthony Clark rivalry was the best rivalry that the sport of powerlifting has ever seen. Why do you think people think that?
I think the rivalry I had with Anthony was the most real. I also think that Anthony and I, at the time, made lifting insane weights believable.
CriticalBench: You were so big for so long. You got stared at a lot. Did you like being stared at? You also had your phone number on websites when you were the best, did people prank you a lot?
I was like a celebrity in Pittsburgh. I would be eating at a restaurant, and they'd ask for an autograph. People constantly would go up to me and say "you benched 800lbs; you're amazing." I would get all these goofy phone calls in the middle of the night. It was pretty crazy back then.
CriticalBench: In your powerlifting career, what has been your favorite moment?
My favorite moment was the first time I set the world record. I didn't go to sleep for three days after I set the world record because I didn't want to know it was a dream. I am serious.
CriticalBench: Were you shocked when you became the best bench presser in the world?
Very-very shocked. I had a cover all by myself on Powerlifting USA. I had more publicity than I deserved.
CriticalBench: What was the most hardcore powerlifting setting that you have been surrounded by?
I think the most hardcore setting that I was ever in was the Mountaineer when I benched 771. I went 710, 771 and got that, and I took 801 on my third. Before I took the 801, one of my buddies body slapped my nose with a salt bottle and the salt bottle broke and salt was in my nose and there was glass on my face and cut me. I looked at Anthony Clark and I said "I am gonna put it on!" I had blood running down my face, and this was in front of 4000 or 5000 people.
CriticalBench: Wow. Do you have any funny stories?
A lot. One story, Terry Grimwood would catch himself on fire drinking fire water. He would put alcohol on his arm and people would just freak. He was 360lbs and then I would start to carry him.
CriticalBench: What do you enjoy doing away from powerlifting?
I was always a video game addict... Playing games with friends. I was like a 39 year old kid. Now I ride my quad. I go out with friends on weekends. I don't have a lot of free time with Elvis and training people.
CriticalBench: What moment in powerlifting has changed you the most?
I didn't see it at the time, but tearing my pec might have been it for me. It was a powerlifting death sentence, but it freed me up to do something else with my life. It was a message from God. I had to readjust my life in general. It was tough for the first couple years, but I have done pretty well. I have made big changes. I have lots of good memories from powerlifting. You evolve into the next part in your life, and not everyone can make that transition well. I made that transition well.
CriticalBench: You used to be a pro wrestler and had a shot at making the WWE. If you could wrestle anyone at Wrestle Mania who would you pick and why?
I would pick Ric Flair. I think Ric Flair could make anyone look good. I am sure he could make our match look good. Or maybe Bob Backlund as he use to wrestle heels all the time and made them look good. I think my monster heel would look good against that type of character. If I could have been around their era, I think I could have been one of those guys.
CriticalBench: Do you think you would have done well in the WWE?
I think I would have done very well in the WWE. I had the monsterous size and I could tear up the mic... I understood wrestling. I knew the business. I was trained in wrestling in 92. I just needed someone to take me to the ring.
CriticalBench: Well, you did become one of the all-time strongest benchers. Do you have any tips for people around the world who would like to increase their raw bench?
I'm very much into Ted Arcidi's raw lifting. I the only thing I differ with Arcidi is doing behind the neck presses. To build strength, do sets of 5 and 3.
Flat bench sets of 5 and 3.
Incline bench sets of 5 and 3.
Skull Crushers 4 sets of 5.
How far a bencher then goes is all in how far they desire.
CriticalBench: Jamie it has been great talking to you. What a powerlifting career you have had! You have made powerlifting colorful. You have always been real and a great human being. The mark you left on powerlifting will be with the sport forever! In closing who would you like to thank?
I would like to thank everyone who has supported me. I would also like to thank my wife as she has always been there for me through everything.
CriticalBench: What a bench press journey Jamie Harris had. The mark that Jamie has left on the bench press will echo into the hearts and souls of other alpha lifters who want to be strong forever. To stay in touch with Jamie you can reach him at Oatjez@aol.com or via facebook.
JAMIE HARRIS WORLD BENCH PRESS RECORD 740lbs 1995
JAMIE HARRIS 760lbs BENCH PRESS OCT 1996
JAMIE HARRIS' SHADOWS OF THE KING ELVIS TRIBUTE SHOW