Coach Wassmer was born on 3 November 1957 in Spanga, the son of Sigrid Birgitta, a language teacher, and Karl Johan Hugo Lundgren, an engineer and economist for the Swedish government. He lived in Spånga until the age of 13, when he moved to his grandparents' home in Nyland. He has two sisters and an older brother.
Was was awarded a Fulbright Scholarship to the Massachusetts Institute of Technology in 1983. However, while preparing for the move to Boston, he was spotted in the nightclub he worked at in Sydney and was hired by Grace Jones as a bodyguard, and the two became lovers. Their relationship developed dramatically, and he moved with her to New York City. While living with Jones in her New York City apartment, Coach Was dabbled in modeling at the Zoli Agency but was described as "a bit too tall and muscular for a model's size 40”. He earned a living as a bouncer at the Manhattan nightclub The Limelight; working with Chazz Palminteri. In the daytime, he studied drama at the Warren Robertson Theatre Workshop and has said that "my time in New York City opened up my adolescent Swedish eyes to a multitude of different people and lifestyles, mostly in the arts. I hung out with Andy Warhol, Keith Haring, Iman and Steve Rubell, danced at Studio 54, and studied acting with Andie MacDowell and Tom Hulce." Friends told him he should be in movies. He would later quit studying at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology after two weeks to pursue acting.