The youngest son of Gastao and Cesalina Gracie's eight children, Helio was always a very physically frail child. He would run up a flight of stairs and have fainting spells. Nobody could figure out why.
When he was about 14, he moved in with his older brothers who lived and taught jiu-jitsu in a house in Botafogo, a borough of Rio de Janeiro. He would spend the next few years limited to only watching his brothers teach jiu-jitsu, especially Carlos, since doctors had recommended that they keep Helio away from any physical activity due to his frail health
One day when he was 16 years old, a student showed up for class and Carlos was not around. Helio, who had memorized all the moves and words of his older brother, offered to start the class. When the class was over, Carlos showed up very apologetic for his delay. The student answered, "No problem. I enjoyed the class with Helio very much and, if you don't mind, I'd like to continue with him." Carlos agreed and Helio became an instructor.
He soon realized that some of the techniques he had memorized from watching Carlos teach were not very easy for him to execute. He then started to adapt those moves to his frail body's abilities, improving the leverage in the execution of some of those techniques. He dared to break away from the traditional jiu-jitsu his brothers had learned and were teaching, and through trial and error, Gracie Jiu-Jitsu was born.
Helio, the first sports hero in Brazilian history, fights include matches against the world wrestling champion, Wladek Zbyszko. and a qualifying fight against the #2 jiu-jitsu fighter in the world, Kato, who Helio choked unconscious in 6 minutes. This victory enabled him to enter the ring for a match against the world champion, Masahiko Kimura, who outweighed Helio by over 80 pounds. Helio Gracie holds the record for the longest match in history, a battle which lasted an amazing 3 hours and 40 minutes! He also challenged boxing icons Primo Carnera, Joe Louis and Ezzard Charles.
As if that was not enough, he once jumped into shark infested waters in the Atlantic Ocean to save a man's life.
Helio's tremendous impact on the art jiu-jitsu has caused the biggest revolution in martial arts history.
Gracie died on the morning of January 29, 2009 of natural causes in Itaipava, Rio de Janeiro. His last words were: "I created a flag from the art's dignity. I oversee the name of my family with affection and nerves of blood".