Bodybuilding Legend Bill Pearl Has Died at 91 Years Old

Pearl is a multiple winner of the NABBA Mr. Universe competition.

Legendary bodybuilder William “Bill” Arnold Pearl has passed away at the age of 91. It was confirmed by Pearl’s wife, Judy, on the official Bill Pearl Facebook page that Pearl passed at 4:00 a.m. on Sept. 14, 2022. The cause of Pearl’s death wasn’t officially declared. However, Judy Pearl wrote that Pearl’s Parkinson’s disease “finally defeated him.”

According to Judy, Pearl was also involved in a mower accident before his death that led to a fracture of his T-10 vertebrae, and he subsequently developed a bacterial infection.

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The most recent post on Pearl’s Facebook page following the announcement of his passing was titled “Bill Pearl…A Life Well Spent.” Below are the highlights of that post that detailed Pearl’s early life and career accolades as a professional bodybuilder:

“William Arnold Pearl was born in Prineville on October 31, 1930. While he was still a young boy, the family moved to Yakima, Washington, where his father opened a restaurant. Bill and his brother and sister worked in the restaurant, Bill washing dishes, three or four nights a week and weekends, for no pay. To earn money he worked summers in Hop fields or orchards.

“From a young age, Bill Pearl identified with the skinny, weak character portrayed in Charles Atlas commercials, which boasted the benefits of weight lifting and bodybuilding. Inspired by sibling rivalry and the desire to become like Charles Atlas, Bill lifted gallon cans of vegetables and gunnysacks of potatoes while working in [his father’s] restaurant.”

Pearl went on to serve in the United States Navy. Stationed in San Diego at age 22, he trained at Leo Stern’s gym, established in 1946. Pearl’s first successful foray into professional bodybuilding came in 1953 at the “AAU Mr. California and Mr. America events,” which he won. He captured his first of four National Amateur Body-Builders’ Association (NABBA) Mr. Universe titles (three overall and one in the Tall class) in London that same year.

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Pearl’s next major contest win was the 1956 Mr. USA contest. He continued his success on bodybuilding stages with wins at the NABBA Mr. Universe contests in 1961, 1967, and 1971. During and after his competitive bodybuilding career, Pearl “owned and managed several gyms on the West Coast from the 1950s through the 1970s.” Pearl purchased George Redpath‘s gym in central Los Angeles in 1962 — one of the first co-ed facilities in the United States.

“During his career, Pearl trained and coached nine Mr. America winners and fourteen Mr. Universe champions,” the post continued. “In the 1960s, he contracted with North American Rockwell’s Aerospace Program to guide training protocols for Rockwell executives and astronauts.”

Pearl’s career after leaving the competitive stage turned to one of teaching others about fitness. He wrote three books: Keys to the Inner Universe (1978), Getting Stronger (1986), and Beyond the Universe: The Bill Pearl Story (2003).

During the ’70s and ’80s, Pearl had monthly Q&A columns called “Pearl of the Universe” and “Wisdom of Pearl” in MuscleMag International and Muscle Builder (later Muscle & Fitness) magazines, respectively.


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A post shared by Arnold Schwarzenegger (@schwarzenegger)

“In 2004, Pearl was awarded the Arnold Schwarzenegger Classic Lifetime Achievement Award for significantly impacting the world of bodybuilding,” according to the post.

Hours after Pearl’s death was announced, Schwarzenegger released a statement on his Instagram, citing Pearl as an early inspiration.

“Bill Pearl will live forever in the millions of people he inspired,” Schwarzenegger wrote. “I know because I’m one of them — when my goals were just dreams, it was idols like Bill Pearl, one of the greatest bodybuilders of all time, who motivated me to make the impossible possible. I put his photo above my little bed in Austria to remind me to keep pushing, to stay hungry, and to never give up. My thoughts are with his family.”

Featured Image: Bill Pearl on Facebook