Bill Pearl: The World’s Best Built Man

muscle building, classic bodybuildersI often think of Bill Pearl as the best bodybuilder never to win a Mr. Olympia title. “Well,” I hear you say, “He was too old in ’65 to win the title”.

And my reply will always be, “Well he was young enough to win the NABBA Professional Mr. Universe in ’71 at age 41, beating Sergio Oliva, Frank Zane, and Chris Dickerson (both past and future Mr. Olympias). In addition there is a strong rumour that the ‘71 Mr. Olympia, Arnold Schwarzenegger was pulled from the competition after a conversation between Pearl’s mentor Leo Stern and Joe Weider because Stern thought Pearl looked good enough to beat Weider’s protégé”.

The fact of the matter was that Pearl was never part of the Weider empire, so he would never have stood a chance in that event. And to be fair it probably didn’t concern him too much.



Bill Pearl was born on the Warm Springs Indian Reservation near Prineville, Oregon in 1930. He is primarily of Native American descent. His fascination with strength and muscle began at age eight, when he saw a circus strongman in his local town. As a youth Pearl was fond of boxing and he took up weight training at the tender age of ten, so he could compete against his older brother, Harold. From an early age he had a passion for collecting cars which he has kept to this day. Pearl continued to weight train through high school utilizing the written works of old-time strongmen and a York Big Ten Special weight set. He was a gifted athlete excelling at wrestling and football and his weight regime shifted to the local YMCA under the tutelage of a local bodybuilder.

After leaving high school and entering the Navy, Pearl joined Leo Stern’s gym in San Diego, California and a lifelong friendship was born. Pearl made great gains in Stern’s gym winning local competitions in 1952. But 1953 was his first big year winning Mr America and the NABBA Amateur Mr. Universe titles. ’53 was the year the legend was born.

Pearl won his first professional NABBA Mr. Universe in 1956 and won it again 1961, 1967, 1971. In 1974 he was named “World’s Best-Built Man of the Century”, and since then has been entered into numerous hall-of-fames and gained many life time achievement awards.

His switch to vegetarianism in 1969 has been the talk of many bodybuilding articles. Pearl is a lacto-ovo vegetarian, allowing the consumption of milk and eggs, a practice he has maintained to this day.classic bodybuilders, muscle building

He has also been the successful owner of a number of gym and health food businesses, a successful author, trained Apollo astronauts, coached top bodybuilding stars.

And the training still carries on to this day! Six days a week Bill Pearl is up at 4am to train. Even in his eighties Bill Pearl has maintained his youth. In fact he maintained his posing routine until he was well in to his sixties, sporting the physique of a healthy man half his age.

Bill Pearl is the epitome of the total iron gamer. His strength has always been equally balanced with his health. It may very well be that Bill Pearl holds the keys to longevity and good health. He is the person I think of when I hear the term, "classic bodybuilder".

Competition Record

  • 1952 Mr. San Diego, 3rd place
  • 1952 Mr. Oceanside
  • 1953 Mr. Southern California
  • 1953 Mr. California
  • 1953 A.A.U., Mr. America
  • 1953 N.A.B.B.A., Mr. Universe Amateur
  • 1956 Mr. U.S.A., Professional
  • 1956 N.A.B.B.A., Mr. Universe, Professional, Tall Man’s Class
  • 1961 N.A.B.B.A., Mr. Universe, Professional
  • 1967 N.A.B.B.A., Mr. Universe, Professional
  • 1971 N.A.B.B.A., Mr. Universe, Professional 

The video below is a tribute, made by a fan, to Bill Pearl: