Growing up in Canada, John Mikl Thor got his first taste of the spotlight in regional bodybuilding competitions. By the early ’70s, he had already found success as Mr. Canada and Mr. USA. Bodybuilding, however, soon took second stage as he found his true calling. Merging feats of strength, Norse mythology, and heavy metal music, Thor found himself at the forefront of a new musical genre, “Gladiator Rock.” While rocking out to songs like “Thunder on the Tundra” and “Let the Blood Run Red,” he would bend bars of steel with his teeth, have cinder blocks smashed on his stomach, and battle demons on stage. His influence is far-reaching, inspiring bands such as Manowar, Armored Saint, and even GWAR. Henry Rollins is also a fan. After an extended period under the radar, Thor has recently reemerged with a new CD, Thor Against the World and a DVD collection, the An-Thor-Lagy.

How did you come to make the transition from bodybuilder to rocker? When I trained for Mr. Universe, Mr. Canada, and Mr. USA, I would work out to the sounds of Black Sabbath, Led Zep, and the Beatles. This would drive me into a frenzy. That’s when I knew muscles and music were a perfect meld. I also played bass in the rock band Iron Falcon. With my interest in theatrical acts like Bowie, Kiss, and Alice Cooper, it was not long after that I emerged as the Rock Gladiator.

When did you assume the identity of Thor? In the early ’70s I was developing the concept. I first tried different names like Centaur, Mikl Body Rock, and “Thor and the Imps,” all of which incorporated various presentations of how I saw the character that evolved into Thor.

“I wore armor and donned black leather and studs”
photo: Courtesy Smog Veil Records

I wore Grecian sandals with glitter loin cloth and wrist bands and rocked out with semi-nude warrior women on stage. After that I found a backup band, the Imps. They were short, small musicians who I would pick up over my head while they played guitar and throw them into the audience. We put on more white-face makeup with lightning bolts painted around the eyes during that period. There was a lot of experimentation, trial and error with the image. Later I wore more armor and donned black leather and studs. So I would say I was in full “Thor Throttle” by the mid ’70s.

Any injuries from tests of strength? There have been many over the years. Cut, bloody fingers from ripping license plates in two, broken ribs from getting slammed with a sledge hammer, a fractured neck while lifting the heaviest person in the audience up with my teeth, many broken back molars from biting and bending steel and of course blacking out while blowing up and exploding a lifetime guarantee hot water bottle with my lungs.

Between 1999 and 2000 you had a band called the Ass Boys. Can you elaborate? It was a punk project that I put together with a band in Raleigh, North Carolina, which featured Michael “ThunderGeek” Pilmer. We played at frat houses and a lot of college women would come to the shows and take their clothes off and rock out.

What are your thoughts on the contemporary wave of metrosexual rock bands, i.e. the Strokes, Spoon, Interpol, etc.? They remind me a lot of the British Invasion in the ’60s with the Dave Clark Five, Herman’s Hermits, and the Animals. Also, bands from the late ’70s and early ’80s: the Knack, the Cars.

Why are there so many fat kids in the U.S.? They are sitting down at the computer too much. Video games have taken over playing football at the park. Physical activity is the answer. Or getting out there and rocking out to some good music and getting some headbanging in. There has to be time for both.