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Schwarzenegger owns up to ‘failures,’ apologizes for affair and groping scandal in new docuseries

Former California Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger speaks on the Los Angeles campus of USC on April 5, 2017. (Rick Loomis/Los Angeles Times/TNS)

Arnold Schwarzenegger owns up to some of his mistakes — and “failures” — in the new Netflix docuseries “Arnold,” addressing the groping and cheating scandals that ensnared him during his foray into California politics in the early 2000s and led to his split from journalist Maria Shriver.

In Lesley Chilcott’s docuseries, the action star apologizes for how he reacted to a front-page Times investigation that reported in 2003 that he had allegedly groped or humiliated numerous women on movie sets, in studio offices and in other settings over the previous three decades, allegedly touching some of the women in a sexual manner without their consent. Eventually, more than a dozen women came forward with similar allegations, confirming a pattern of behavior that built on Schwarzenegger’s media moniker “Arnold the Barbarian.”)

“My reaction in the beginning, I was kind of … defensive,” the body-builder turned Republican California governor says in the third episode of “Arnold,” which begins streaming Wednesday. “Today, I can look at it and kind of say, it doesn’t really matter what time it is. If it’s the Muscle Beach days of 40 years ago, or today, that this was wrong. It was bull—. Forget all the excuses, it was wrong.”

Times columnist Carla Hall, who is interviewed in the docuseries, provided more context about how the newspaper covered the story at the time. Hall, whose first piece was published five days before California’s 2003 recall election, said that when Schwarzenegger announced his run for office, Times reporters began looking into rumors about him that they had heard for years and put together the story in six weeks. The first story set off a wave of new tips and led to more stories.

The blowback against the newspaper was swift, with people accusing The Times of “holding” the stories until just before the election. Schwarzenegger himself at first called the allegations untrue, denied them and attacked the media for tearing him down. He publicly apologized and ultimately won the recall election after the ouster of Gov. Gray Davis. Hall said that she was surprised the investigation didn’t have more of an effect on the race and thought more people would be offended, but others in the doc said that attacks on the former Mr. Universe’s character were never going to compete with the reputation he had built globally.

The “Terminator” and “FUBAR” actor also gets frank in “Arnold” about his 1996 affair that confirmed he had fathered a son with Mildred Baena, his and Shriver’s longtime housekeeper. In the docuseries, he recalled how he admitted to a “crushed” Shriver that he had a son out of wedlock. The affair had been kept a secret for 13 years, but Shriver finally confronted Baena after the housekeeper brought her son to work with her — and the boy had a striking resemblance to a certain Austrian-born bodybuilder.

“Maria and I went to counseling once a week,” Schwarzenegger says in the final episode of the series. “And in one of the sessions the counselor said, ‘I think today Maria wants to be very specific about something. She wants to know if you are the father of Joseph.’ And I was like, I thought my heart stopped, and then I told the truth.”

“I had an affair in ’96. In the beginning I really didn’t know. I just started feeling the older he got the more it became clear to me and it was then just really just a matter of how do you keep this quiet? How do you keep this a secret?”

Shriver was not interviewed in the docuseries and a representative for her did not immediately respond Monday to The Times’ request for comment.

The Times’ Mark Z. Barabak, who was also interviewed in the doc, says that the newspaper confirmed a tip it had received about Baena with the governor’s office after Schwarzenegger and Shriver separated and that the newspaper gave the couple some time to talk to their family before publishing the report. Shriver, the niece of late President John F. Kennedy, filed for divorce in 2011 after 25 years of marriage and just a few months after Schwarzenegger wrapped up his second term as governor of California.

“I had to go to my kids and explain it to them,” Schwarzenegger said. The “Expendables” star publicly apologized for the affair in a 2014 statement to The Times. His marriage to the award-winning news anchor officially dissolved in late 2021. (Last month, he told the Hollywood Reporter that he doesn’t miss being married.) The former couple share four children: daughters Katherine (an author who is married to actor Chris Pratt) and Christina, and sons Patrick, an actor, and Christopher, who has largely remained out of the public eye. Schwarzenegger says in the docuseries that his seven-year stint in office was “very, very tough” on his marriage and relationship with his kids.

Bruce Willis in a suit shirt and black blazer standing next to Arnold Schwarzenegger in a gray suit. Both men are smiling

The “Kindergarten Cop” and “Twins” star felt reluctant to talk about the affair because “every time I do, it opens up the wounds again.”

“I think that I have caused enough pain for my family because of my f— up. You know, because of that everyone had to suffer. Maria had to suffer. The kids had to suffer. Joseph. His mother. Everyone,” he says.

“I am going to have to live with it the rest of my life. People will remember my successes and they will also remember those failures. This is a major failure. I mean, I had failures in the past in — you know, in my career — but I mean this is like a whole different ballgame. This is like a whole different dimension of failure,” he continues.

Schwarzenegger embraces Baena, whom he calls a “fantastic man” who “makes me proud.” (Baena, now 25, appears in the doc working out with Schwarzenegger.)

“It was wrong what I did. But I don’t want to make Joseph feel that he is not welcomed in this world — because he’s very much welcomed in this world. And I love him and he has turned out to be an extraordinary young man,” he says.

“I’m very happy within this sad story that Maria and I were able to raise the kids really well. I think there’s nothing more important than having a good partner by your side, and every step of the way, Maria was exactly that. We have a really great relationship. Any kind of a special day, we are all together as a family. And everyone is really happy about that. But it’s not what it was.”


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