Robert Kennedy, publisher of Oxygen, MuscleMag, dies of cancer at 73

The man behind the Ontario-based publishing house that produces a slew of popular health books and fitness magazines, including Oxygen and MuscleMag, has died.

Robert “Bob” Kennedy, who founded Robert Kennedy Publishing, died of complications from cancer on Thursday night at his home in Caledon Hills, Ont., north of Toronto. He was 73.

“He showed me how to live my life as one filled with possibilities. Through him I became what I am today, a story that is familiar to many others who have been touched by Bob’s generous, warm and colorful spirit,” his wife Tosca Reno wrote on her personal blog Friday.

Reno pens the best-selling “Eat-Clean Diet” series, which is produced by Kennedy’s publishing house. She has credited Kennedy for her transformation from an “overweight, frumpy 40-something” to a fitness fanatic.

“What Robert gave me will fill me for my lifetime. To walk this path without him is by far the biggest weight I have lifted yet though Robert trained me well….Goodbye my dear husband, friend and mentor.”

Kennedy was born to an Austrian father and an English mother who were both school teachers. He grew up in Britain, where his passion for fitness was apparent from an early age. Kennedy and a friend would construct makeshift-weights from broomsticks and cement-filled tins, and save up to buy bodybuilding magazines from London.

Kennedy moved to Canada in 1967 where he initially taught art for five years in Brampton, Ont.

His fitness-based business empire had its roots in a 1972 venture when he sold nutrition, bodybuilding and fitness instruction courses through the mail.

He then launched his first magazine — MuscleMag International — in 1974 and later started a fitness franchise with stores and a clothing line in the 1990s.

Kennedy wrote a number of books including a bestseller called “Hardcore Bodybuilding,” which was titled after a fitness term he coined.

The veteran publisher got something of a mental boost not long before he died when former California Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger, a longtime friend, paid him a surprise visit on Easter Sunday.

The pair reminisced about old times and even flexed their muscles, his wife said.

“It was difficult not to shed tears as Arnold gently held Robert’s hand and began a conversation that would bring a sparkle back into my husband’s blue eyes and cement their friendship forever,” Reno wrote on her blog.

“It did my heart good to see this exchange. Arnold made good on his promise to visit his old friend, something I am ever grateful for and will never forget.”

Schwarzenegger took to Twitter on Friday to mourn Kennedy’s loss.

“My thoughts are with family & friends of Bob Kennedy,” he tweeted. “There is no question that his legacy of a fitter and healthier world will live on.”

A statement from staff at Kennedy’s Mississauga, Ont.- based publishing house said his spirit would be kept alive in the magazines and books he launched.

Kennedy continued to maintain regular hours at the office and the gym in his 70s and was always a hands-on boss who reviewed every page of each publication in his chain, the statement said.

“Bob leaves behind a legacy as a pioneer in the field of bodybuilding and physical wellness,” it said.