Joseph Pilates met his future wife Clara, a kindergarten teacher, on a boat to Ellis Island. The story goes that Clara suffered from arthritis and Joe worked with her to increase her mobility and ease her pain. Once in New York, they opened their own gymnasium at 939 Eighth Avenue, in the same building that housed rehearsal studios for George Balanchine’s New York City Ballet.
Joseph Pilates never received the level of recognition his clearly remarkable work deserved, and even today it’s hard to delve into the legend and find the real story. This is true in part because most of what we know about his life came from his students’ students.
While many facts about Joe’s life are verifiable, sources still disagree about the basics. In fact, I’ve reviewed several sites and each gives a different year of death (1966, 1967, 1968) as well as a different cause of death (died in a fire, as a result of a fire, as a result of smoke inhalation from a fire, etc.). according to him The New York Times Joseph Pilates died in 1967 at Lenox Hill Hospital, however times The cause of death is not mentioned. And there was actually a fire on the same floor as his studio in 1965 as Joe suffered scrapes on his leg while checking out the studio.
According to Pilates Elder Mary Bowen, “To set the record—no, Joe didn’t die in a fire. He died two years later…of advanced emphysema from smoking cigars for many years…” It seemed that all the good breathing in the world couldn’t keep his scarred lungs (remember he had rheumatism and asthma as a child) from feeling the effects of smoking. As Joe left no will, Clara took over the studio until she retired in the mid-1970s. This is where the story gets more interesting, as when the various Pilates schools were formed.