Mark Wahlberg is a man of paradoxes. He’s one of the highest-paid actors in Hollywood, yet many of his films have bombed. He’s one of the most-loved actors among Trump supporters, but he was a big Obama donor. And, although he is known for his decency and Christian faith, he was a thug in his youth and an underwear model in the 1990s.
Wahlberg has made hundreds of millions of dollars from portraying muscle-bound “average Joes” who get mixed up in extraordinary situations. However, he’s now in the news for an unexpected financial setback.
In 2019, the actor became one of the largest shareholders of F45 Training, a gym franchise of Australian origin that is committed to high-intensity, 45-minute-long training sessions. His dual-role as a franchiser and investor bolstered the global expansion of the brand, which now has 1,700 gyms on five continents. However, F45′s meteoric growth has been violently curbed by a stock market crash: shares have plunged by more than 60% in value, likely due to the company’s lack of liquidity and investor uncertainty about its long-term viability.
According to The Financial Times, a share in F45 was worth about $17 in 2021. Now, the price per share stands at around $2. CEO Adam Gilchrist has resigned, while about half of the corporate staff has been dismissed. More than two-thirds of all gyms – about 1,000 franchises – have been forced to close.
It’s difficult to blame the collapse on Mark Wahlberg, who has done everything humanly possible to turn his most recognized friends – and himself – into brand ambassadors for F45. He has done media tours to promote the gyms, even using his private jet to host training sessions. His Instagram is full of photos and video clips of famous buddies, such as David Beckham, J Balvin, Cindy Crawford and Magic Johnson, who he works out with using the F45 method.
Married to the model Rhea Durham since 2009, 51-year-old Wahlberg – the father of four children – cultivates the image of a devoted family man. His children, he explains, are the reasons behind his investment ventures: “I want to build a business that can be passed on to future generations.”
Wahlberg’s childhood was not so privileged. He grew up in the working-class Boston neighborhood of Dorchester, with nine siblings, in a broken home. At the age of 13, he dropped out of school and turned to a life of crime, becoming addicted to cocaine and alcohol. He racked up dozens of arrest – at the age of 16, he beat an elderly Vietnamese-American man unconscious, while uttering hateful slurs. Wahlberg was subsequently jailed for 45 days – a brief sentence that managed to get him away from bad company.
Three years later, his hip-hop group – Marky Mark and the Funky Bunch – went to number one on the charts. He began to tour, eventually moving to Hollywood, where he quickly earned recurring roles as a tough guy.
“It’s fantastic to be able to make a living making movies,” he said. “Being lucky enough to have such a great job allows me to take other gambles.”
It’s very common for big stars to dive into business. For instance, there are dozens of actors and musicians who sell their own brands of alcohol or perfume. But Wahlberg has managed to set himself apart. His production company has created successful TV shows such as Entourage and Boardwalk Empire. His hamburger chain, Wahlburgers, now has more than 50 establishments. He also has a sneaker line, a reality show, a podcast, stakes in Chevrolet dealerships, the Aquahydrate bottled water company, countless investments in supplements for athletes… and, like many of his fellow actors, a tequila brand.
On the docuseries Wahl Street – now available on HBO Max – the viewer gets to see how Wahlberg combines his business interests with cinematography. His daily routine is surreal: “I get up at half past two in the morning and go to the gym an hour later. I finish around half past five and go to work at half past seven. With a lot of prayer in between.”
However, his schedule was dramatically interrupted by the Covid-19 pandemic – he stopped shooting and his businesses were all shuttered. Compared to what struck Wahlberg and the global economy, the tough situation now facing F45 seems salvageable.
“I have learned more from failures and losses than from victories,” he said in an interview with The Wall Street Journal. “Social media is always showing us all the great successes, but I want to show the journey, the problems, the learning curve and the bumps along the way.”