Greek strong man was a real legend of the Australian showground circuit

"If there are mistakes, you pay for them. If there are not mistakes, you still pay for them," says Samson. "I did this interview to make the name of Samson last a little longer and that it is not completely forgotten. Many have seen me four or five times and have taken their children to see me. All the older Greeks on the Sunshine Coast still remember me," says the indomitable (Leon) Samson. – Neos Kosmos, 20 June, 2015.

I wrote the 2015 article which concluded with the above words. Leonithas Postoglithis changed his name to Leon Samson once he settled in Australia and adopted the life of the travelling showman.

He arrived in Australia in 1953. Within a few short years he became widely known by his stage name, Samson the Strongman from Greece. He toured the showgrounds and carnivals of Australia where he found fame not only for his feats of strength but an insane ability to consume inanimate objects such as metal, rubber, glass, you name it.

In the post-war years, before television really took hold in Australia, he was a star.

He came to mind again recently when his relatives in Greece sought to contact him after coming across the Neos Kosmos article of 2015. Since then I lost contact with him but I never really forgot him because his was a most colourful life, quite unlike any other that I have come across before.

So when his relatives in Greece sought news of him recently, I went back to my old notes and contacted the Greek Community of St George for news of him. The organisation had helped his daughter to find a place for him in Maroochydore, on the Sunshine Coast, Queensland. He spent his mornings there fishing and the evenings listening to a Greek radio station and would regularly call in to express his views on the world.

The organisation had kept an eye on him and it had been one of its social workers who had called on Neos Kosmos to write his story in 2015. So it was sad for me to learn and pass on the news to his relatives that he had died in 2017.

READ MORE: Sunshine Coast’s own Samson

For him the trek to Australia in 1953 was made not out of economic necessity but as an adventure. It led him to a fantastical life in the showbiz world of 1950s-60s Australia. His stage name was conferred on him by another showman, Chief Little Wolf, a Navajo from the US who ran his own travelling show and was famous for his strength and wrestling ability.

“Chief Little Wolf asked me what job did I want and I said ‘strongman’, so he said ‘from now on you are Young Samson from Greece’. At that time, the movie Samson and Delilah, with Victor Mature, was very popular and that is how the name stuck,” Samson told Neos Kosmos in 2015. He had been a strong man in Greece before he came to Australia, learning the trade from a relative in Thrama who could bend iron with his hands and teeth.

Samson did not just make a living from his feats of strength. His ability to consume inanimate objects is what really cemented his name in Australian showbiz mythology.

The metal eating started in 1958 when singer Slim Dusty, the star of a show run by impresario Frank Foster, could not perform because of laryngitis. Samson who had the strong man act told Foster that he had a new act to keep the punters happy. He would swallow razor blades live. Thanks to this act he became the “most talked about strong man in the world”.

And to everyone’s amazement, including Foster’s, that is what he did and would keep on doing for the next 30 years. Keeping in mind that he lived into his 80s this aspect of his performance did him no harm.

Leon Samson lies on a bed of nails while a member of the audience brings down a sledge hammer on the granite boulder resting on his chest and stomach. Photo: Supplied

Foster said in a 1998 interview that Samson’s metal-eating act was the real thing accomplished with “the best set of teeth you can imagine” and not some circus illusion. X-rays verified that what the audiences saw passing through his mouth did indeed end up in his stomach.

In the late 1960s Greek businessman John Katopothis famously bet him $30,000 that he could not eat a full car in four years. Katopothis welched on the bet but the publicity that it generated was priceless.

An ABC documentary shows Samson calmly going about the business of stripping part of the car body and cutting up the metal into smaller pieces before consuming them. He tells the presenter that he had eaten about 680g the car as well as 54 razor blades for shows on the previous day.

What is interesting about the interview is not only watching Samson consuming bits of car but his calm description in an almost perfect Aussie accent of what it takes to carry out the feat.

“Sometimes there is a bit of discomfort if there are too many shows in a day. It takes about 20 hours to get the metal of out of the system,” he tells the presenter.

The Central Western Daily (24 April, 1969) announces that Samson “will give a $5,000 reward to any person who can duplicate his show act: it involves having a car run over you and a granite boulder broken on your chest with a sledge hammer as well as eating razor blades and breaking four-inch nails with your teeth.”

A crowd mills around before the show. The posters above them loudly declare the feats of the ‘Strong Man from Greece’. Photo: Supplied

He was to take his act to New Zealand and then back to Europe in 1971. Over the years he was to run his own businesses that were not related to entertainment. He eventually retired in 1994 to run the family farm in Veroia in northern Greece. But, ever the restless spirit, he returned to Australia to be close to his family in his declining years.

A photograph taken in 2015 shows him standing before a wall of newspaper cuttings describing the feats of his youth. He has lost one eye but the other eye is keen. And the broad face and strong neck show that there is still strength there.

It is late in offering a tribute and this is mine to Leon Samson and a life lived to the full.