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About Bill Pearl
The Bill Pearl epic began in 1930 in Prineville, Oregon where Bill first saw the light of day. He did not stay there long as the Pearl family was on the move a great deal, because of the depression, before finally settling in Yakima, Washington.
From an early age Bill had an intense desire to be strong and well built. As early as the age of ten, Bill would try to find the hardest odd jobs in the neighborhood, hoping to build his body and strength. This inborn desire drove Bill to search for the way to acquire the outstanding physique he so desired.
One day, years later, a friend of Bill's came to his house all excited and said, "Bill, I finally found the answer for you." In his hand he has a wartime copy of Strength and Health magazine. Bill could hardly believe his eyes when he looked through it and saw photographs of John Grimek, Clancy Ross, and Steve Reeves. From the minute he picked up the magazine, he knew he had found "the way".
Bill worked all summer long to earn enough money to send away for a York barbell set. Due to the war effort, iron was in short supply and he had to wait two years for the set to arrive. When his hands first touched the weights, little did he know it would set a chain reaction that would be a guiding force for the rest of his life. The end results being acclaimed the best-built man in the entire history of the world.
During these early years when still at school, Bill was so enthusiastic about bodybuilding that he would write term papers about strong men of the past such as Eugene Sandow, Louis Cyr, Arthur Saxon, and others. Bill himself was never a sickly child: in fact, he was quite a stocky kid and interested in sports. He played softball, ran track, was on the school swimming team, and played football. He admits, however, he was not a natural athlete, and everything came only after much hard effort. In fact, the only two sports he made rapid progress in were wrestling and bodybuilding.
Bill can remember taking pictures when he was a youngster of 17 or 18 and his arm hanging at his side measured 11 3/4 inches, which is a pretty good measurement for a teenager.
After Bill had been training for a while, his one goal in life was to get his picture in the Strength and Health magazine - in fact, any magazine. This single goal kept Bill busy on the weights until he graduated from high school.
In 1950 Bill entered the U.S. Navy and subsequently had very little time to train until he was eventually stationed in San Diego, California, and joined Leo Stern's Gym. This was the turning point for Bill's future. He was now able to receive proper guidance with his training and had the necessary equipment and competition to push him to a higher set of goals. He entered his first physique contest in 1952 and placed third in the annual Mr. San Diego contest. Come 1953 and Bill Pearl took the physique world by storm. He took the Mr. Oceanside, Mr. Southern California, Mr. California, Mr. America and Mr. Universe titles all in one year.
With his enlistment in the navy finished in early 1954, Bill moved to Sacramento, California, and opened his first gym with the money he had saved by taking out war bonds the four years he was in the service - a grand total of $2,800.00. With the strong determination Bill has for succeeding, the gym was a tremendous success and overnight it was turning out some of the finest physiques the West Coast had ever seen. At one time he had expanded his gym operation to nine different health clubs scattered throughout Northern California. This, however, was not BILL. He was not able to get involved with the people on a personal basis. He therefore eventually cut back to one club and concentrated his efforts on making it the finest in Northern California.
Bill's next victory in the physique would came in 1956 when he won the Mr. U.S.A. contest over the top 35 or 40 physique men in the country. This victory definitely put him at the top of the ladder in world competition, perhaps sharing the spotlight with the great Reg Park until around 1965. Following the 1956 Mr. U.S.A. win, Bill's next victory was his win at the 1961 Professional Mr. Universe contest in London, England, where he was the unanimous winner, receiving every first place vote.
Because of personal problems, Bill sold his health club in Sacramento in 1962 and moved to Los Angeles, California, and purchased the famous George Redpath Gym. By this time Bill was in constant demand as a guest poser. He also had a fabulous strength act which included blowing up hot water bottles until they world burst, spike bending, chain breaking, and tearing auto license plates in half with his bare hands. He was also performing such lifting feats as a seated press behind neck with 310 lbs, military pressing 320 lbs, bench pressing 450 lbs, front squatting 500 lbs and full squatting 605 lbs at a body weight of 218 lbs. He was the most widely traveled Mr. America on record, having made trips around the world performing in nearly every foreign country, giving exhibitions, feats of strength, and lectures on physical fitness. His main theme was always to present himself as a gentleman and a spokesman fitting for the sport of bodybuilding. He appeared before crowds of 25,000 people in India, was the special hose guest of such distinguished men as J. Paul Getty and other top notables.
By now the Pearl physique was a legend and he was still improving every year. He continued to set higher and higher standards for the newcomers. Not only continuing to push himself to higher esteem, Bill still found time to help others reach the top in the physique world by turning out Mr. Americas and Mr. Universes about as fast as he was winning the contests himself.
It was in 1967 when Bill decided to enter the Mr. Universe contest for the last time at the age of 37 and had plans of retiring from competition and devoting his extra time to others he felt would appreciate the limelight more than he.
Bill again took Britain by storm and won hands down, taking every first place vote. Most people admitted he was the world's Number One by far. He was in the greatest shape of his life at that time and some of the pictures published of Bill around this time were simply fantastic. Many bodybuilders believed Bill had secrets he was not sharing with the rest of the physique world.
The following are Oscar Heidenstam's comments taken from the British publication, Health and Strength, dated October 26, 1967. "Let us be honest, focus was On the amazing Bill Pearl, and who, If anyone, could In any way match up to him... Surely the news that someone Like Pearl Is competing must inevitably deter those who come from a Long way and at considerable cost. Class 1 - All the way it was Pearl, here he was the supreme. Physique, posing, personality, the man himself, everything a champion should be. No superlative could describe this man; he was perfection itself, the master. It was easy for him, yet so inspiring. Who could be second to such a man? ... The Overall Professional Mr. Universe 1967 just had to be BILL PEARL and WAS THERE EVER A BETTER ONE?"
Over the years Bill had long thought of opening a health club that would have universal appeal. His main idea was to separate the businessmen and light trainers for the bodybuilders and heavy powerlifters. This would mean that anyone, regardless of their present physical condition or goals, could use facilities that most appealed to them. His several years of consulting with North American Rockwell's Aerospace Program as athletic advisor to the Medical Staff, headed by the renowned Harold Morrison, M.D., had made Bill even more aware that proper weight training could improve nearly every person's life style if properly performed.
With this in mind, he sold his gym in Los Angeles and purchased a beautiful modern building in Pasadena, California, that was suitable to his needs. He then proceeded to build one of the finest private health facilities in the United States.
With his contest days over - or so he thought - Bill wanted to stay in excellent health and devote all his time to his family, business, and helping others acquire superb health. THEN CAME THE BOMBSHELL!
It was rumored through various physique magazines that Bill was afraid to compete in contests in which other star physiques were entered. He did not take these attacks seriously at first, as he did not think that anyone would expect him at over 40 years of age to do battle with these younger fellows in their twenties. He'd had his share of the limelight. Youth must be served.
However, he had not reckoned with the attitude of his old friend and advisor, Leo Stern. These rumors had upset Stern more than it had Pearl. Leo talked to Bill and told him that this would be the ideal way to settle the argument once and for all. Bill was very skeptical because of business pressures and the strain it would put on his wife. Leo kept on insisting that not only could Bill work around the obstacles, he could get into the best shape of his life and beat them all.
So it was the team of Pearl and Stern embarked on what would be the most vital contest in which Bill has ever competed. A lot of these fellows had something going for them that Bill did not and would not have - DRUGS. He absolutely refused to use anabolic steroids in his training methods. He firmly believes that while these drugs have an important place in the would of medicine, they are in no way meant to be used by the man who desires to improve his physique by lifting weights. In fact, this was to be a major factor in Bill's decision to have just one more try and compete against these people. It thus became a quest to prove to the same0minded bodybuilders throughout the world that resorting to the dangerous practice of using drugs is not only unnecessary - it is, in Bill's opinion, "sheer madness".
With the decision made, Bill, with the help of Leo, began to prepare himself to do battle with the cream of the present-day bodybuilders. It was well publicized early in 1971 that Pearl intended to enter the annual Mr. Universe contest in London. This meant that anyone who wished to compete against him had ample and equal time to prepare himself for the event.
Over the course of a year Bill Pearl transformed himself from a great physique to the absolute greatest physique ever! Exercise programs and diets were carefully worked out and from it evolved an absolutely fantastic Pearl that not even his closest friends could believe.
On Friday, September 17, the pre-judging was held to determine who would be the amateur and professional Mr. Universe winners for 1971. Great physiques journeyed from all over the world in what would be the most hotly contested Mr. Universe ever. On the afternoon of the next day the famous Victoria Palace was packed to the doors, as usual, for the 23rd annual Mr. Universe contest. The capacity crowd enjoyed a fabulous show, and then waited with baited breath until at last the announcements were about to be made. "Ladies and gentlemen, the 1971 N.A.B.B.A. amateur Mr. Universe Is Ken Waller of the United States." This was a very popular decision and that grand old theater rang to resounding applause. You could almost hear a pin drop when M.C. Cecil Peck went on. "Ladies and Gentlemen, the 1971 N.A.B.B.A. professional Mr. Universe is... BILL PEARL!" That huge crowd went wild, cheering what must have been one of the most popular decisions since the contest began in 1948.
A hush came over the crowd as Pearl walked toward the microphone to say a few words to his thousands of fans and a little man jumped to his feet and with his finest English accent began to shout at the top of his lungs, "PEARL IS KING."
Returning home from England, after a brief tour of the Continent with his wife and the Sterns, Pearl put himself into virtual isolation from the physique world except for his business. He gave no exhibitions, no appearances, nothing. Being asked why he had taken this attitude, Bill replied, "My main reason for entering the 1971 Mr. Universe contest was to prove a point and I did. The trophy or the title meant very little to me. I wanted it forgotten and over. I actually felt strange onstage and felt I should have been there as a consular or a judge rather than a competitor. It reminded me of an old man trying to act like a kid. I felt I had my day and enough was enough."
Bill started competing in bicycle racing in 1972 and purposely dropped his body weight to 185 lbs. Still continuing to weight train daily, he altered his training to fit his new sport. He rode and competed in races until 1975 and then returned to hard training again bringing his body weight back up to 225 pounds and dropped the bike riding to a weekend hobby. With very few photos and articles appearing in the physique magazines, plus the news the Pearl had stopped serious training, he was no longer a threat to the current flock of competitive body builders. Bill was now able to get at the goal he had wanted to attempt for years but could not find the time - getting all the weight training knowledge, material and data he had stored up on paper in hopes of helping others meet their goals in life. Bill's book Keys to The Inner Universe is a part of that goal.
After the completion of Keys to The Inner Universe, Bill and his wife Judy, moved to Southern Oregon, where they found their ideal haven in a healthful, clean environment, overlooking the beautiful Rogue Valley. The climate and their wonderful neighbors suit them perfectly, while the surrounding hills and the valley provide them with a deep sense of peace and tranquility when they are at home.
Bill still gets up regularly at 3:00 a.m. to train six days a week, works on his antique automobiles whenever he has a little spare time, and when he's not doing all that, he is on the road as a consultant for Life Fitness, sharing his expertise in the use of the fabulous Life Circuit exercise system and equipment. His home gym has been updated to include this innovative equipment and he is very enthusiastic about its capabilities for use in sports rehab and exercise. It is used in his gym by everyone who trains there, from neighbor ladies in their seventies, to the biggest, brawniest hulks that come up to challenge him.
In short, Bill and Judy have found the best of two worlds through their move to Oregon: peace and tranquility at home, and challenging new opportunities and ways to pass his knowledge and experience of the sport of bodybuilding to others.
Bill Pearl's Career
1953 Mr. Southern California 1953 Mr. California 1953 AAU Mr. America 1953 NABBA Mr. Universe, Amateur 1956 Mr. USA, Professional 1961 NABBA Mr. Universe, Professional 1967 NABBA Mr. Universe, Professional 1971 NABBA Mr. Universe, Professional 1971 WBBG World's Best Built Man 1978 WBBG Hall Of Fame 1988 Pioneers of Fitness Hall Of Fame 1992 Gold's Gym Hall Of Fame 1994 Guest of Honor of the Association of Old-Time Barbell & Strongmen 12th Annual Reunion 1994 The Joe Weider Hall Of Fame 1995 Heidenstam Foundation Hall Of Fame 1995 AAU Lifetime Achievement 1996 American Powerlifters Federation Hall of Fame 1997 International Chiropractors Association Sports & Fitness Man of the Year 2000 Spirit of Muscle Beach Award 2001 World Gym Lifetime Achievement Award 2001 Society of Weight-Training Injury Specialists Lifetime Achievement Award