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Joseph Zohar, former Newsday fitness columnist, dies

Joseph Zohar, a former Newsday fitness columnist and professional sports rehab guru who had lived in Syosset for 40 years, died Monday at his retirement home in Irvine, Calif. He was 74.

A physical therapist, Zohar was among the first to apply scientific regimens of weight training to the conditioning and rehabilitation of professional athletes, according to his son, Daniel, of Los Angeles.

Daniel Zohar recalled that in the early 1970s, his father helped many of the New York Knicks with weight training, including Willis Reed, who famously hobbled onto the court for Game 7 of the 1970 NBA Finals against the Lakers. Later, Zohar helped revive the career of Julius "Dr. J" Erving, who suffered from chronic knee problems.

Erving, a Roosevelt native, remembered Zohar as an excellent physical therapist who helped rehabilitate a severely pulled groin muscle. "The next season I was voted most valuable player," Erving said Wednesday.

Daniel Zohar said the work with Erving "was the highlight of my dad's career."

Zohar also worked with professional tennis players, including John McEnroe and Vitas Gerulaitis, his son said. He added that when it came to sports rehab, his dad "was really ahead of the curve. What he used to do back in the late 1960s and early 1970s with weight training is pretty commonplace now, but many years ago athletes didn't do it."

From 1978 to about 1987, Zohar wrote a fitness column for Newsday and published two books, "Scientific Conditioning Program for Tennis" in 1973 and "How to Prevent Sports Injuries" in 1984.He was a guest on "The Merv Griffin Show," his son said, and made regular appearances with sports anchor Bill Mazer on Ch. 5, which was then WNEW TV.

Zohar was born in Tel Aviv and was a medalist in track and field in Israel's 1953 Maccabiah games. In 1958, after serving in the Israeli army, he moved to the United States to pursue his master's degree at New York University. While on the NYU soccer team, Zohar met Joyce Myron, who had been a winner on the game show "The $64,000 Question" in the subject of nuclear physics. They married in 1961.

Dan Zohar said he and his father played in sanctioned father-son tennis tournaments and they briefly were nationally ranked. After Dan moved to California, his father visited and the two played in a national tournament in Newport Beach. That's how his parents ended up moving to California in 1998, he said - "He liked the weather so much and the thought of playing tennis all year round."

In a Viewpoints article for Newsday in 1987, Zohar wrote about how he and his brother and parents were displaced after World War II and forced to flee their home in Israel when it was burned down during an attack by an Arab mob. "For two years, we shared a 13-by-13-foot room with my grandfather . . . until we were able to save some money and borrow the rest to rent our own apartment," he wrote.

Zohar said his father died unexpectedly. The cause is unknown, he said, and the family is awaiting results of an autopsy. In addition to Zohar's wife and son, survivors include a daughter, Karen of Aspen, Colo., and four grandchildren.

A memorial service will be held at noon Sunday at the Pacific View Memorial Park in Corona Del Mar, Calif.

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