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‘The Firm’ fitness entrepreneur Benson dies at 59


Staff Report
Published Nov. 30, 2009

Anna Lynn Benson, the Columbia native who helped create The Firm line of fitness videos that rode the 1980s aerobics boom to sales of more than 100 million worldwide, has died.

Benson died Nov. 23 in Boquete, Panama, at age 59; she had been diagnosed with cancer, according to a statement from her son, Byrd Henriksen, on her Web site.

Benson founded The Body Firm workout studios in Columbia and Charleston in 1979. Working with her then-husband, filmmaker Mark Henriksen, and her sister, Cynthia Benson, she created the hugely successful line of exercise videos titled The Firm, beginning in 1986.

Benson served as the designer of the workout regimens using aerobics and free weights, which were unusual that time in that they were exercise programs being marketed to women. Sales success of the videos made The Firm a nationally recognized exercise brand.

That brand is now the property of the Gaiam fitness and lifestyle company, though Benson continued to sell recordings of the initial ’80s and ’90s Firm workouts and new routines through her Web site. The Firm exercise center still operates in Lexington.

Benson, her sister and Henriksen also created two award-winning documentary films about the history and culture of two Southern cities: The Key West Picture Show (1978) and Dear Charleston (1980).

Benson was born in Columbia on Dec. 19, 1949, and lived most of her life there. She was graduated from the University of South Carolina, where she earned a bachelor’s degree in English, a master’s degree in library science and a master’s in educational technology.

A memorial service for the family and friends celebrating her life will be held at 4 p.m. Tuesday at St. Paul’s Lutheran Church in Columbia.

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