Bodybuilding icon Tony Pearson details his struggles in childhood and how he discovered bodybuilding.

Tony Pearson is a former pro bodybuilder known for his iconic physique and a career that spanned from the 70’s through to the 90s. But before he was an established pro bodybuilder – he grew up through a tumultuous childhood of poverty, racism, and segregation. In 2019, he published a book detailing his life story. In our latest GI Exclusive interview, Tony Pearson details the harsh reality of growing up through poverty, abuse, and racism. As well as how he discovered bodybuilding to escape from his troubled past.

When connecting with Tony Pearson for a video interview, he described his past as something that he some times blocks out and pretends never existed. But those moments are only momentary – because his past did happen. It was a traumatic past full of poverty, abuse, and racism. It was a childhood that felt “normal” at the time because he had nothing else to compare it to. It was only after getting older and expanding his social life that he realized the severity of his past.

In 2019, Tony Pearson published a book, Driven: My Secret Untold Story. The book revealed in great detail the reality of his upbringing. During our conversation, we ask Pearson to recap some of those stories to help further expose not only his harsh reality – but the reality of poverty and racism that has existed in this country and how far we’ve come in some ways and stayed the same in others.

Tony Pearson was born in 1957, so his childhood took place during a period of racial segregation in the United States. Not only that but Pearson was born into poverty. He was ultimately left to the care of his aunt – who did not want to take on the responsibility or perhaps couldn’t bear to due to her own financial struggles. Regardless, Pearson’s entire childhood since the age of three was defined by extreme trauma.

Tony Pearson reveals that he was barely fed food and would sometimes go days without eating a single meal. He was often ignored by his aunt and left to his own devices. During school, he would be taken out of classes for months at a time to work on cotton fields. When he would return, he would be so far behind with his school work that he couldn’t catch up. This all seemed in some ways normal to Pearson at the time. He had no friends and had no comparison to make.

But this isn’t just a story of trauma and struggle. This is a story about overcoming the struggle and becoming the successful man we all know today. Bodybuilding was ultimately an escape for Pearson. An escape into a new world where he could succeed and grow past the struggles of his youth.

By the time he moved to high school, he had the opportunity to meet Muhammad Ali in person. It was an iconic moment and a truly important one. Upon seeing the sheer size and scope of Ali, Pearson was inspired. He wanted to become an athlete.

This led to a path of discovery that ultimately placed him into wrestling. He started training for the sport, developed a love of weightlifting, and slowly developed into a bodybuilder. He knew friends who owned bodybuilding magazines that further inspired him. He now had a direction and hope towards a better future.

You can watch Tony Pearson go into full detail about his past, his encounter with Muhammad Ali, and how he discovered bodybuilding in our latest GI Exclusive interview segment above.

Derek Dufour has been managing all digital operations on the Generation Iron Network for over six years. He currently manages a team of editors, writers, and designers to provide up-to-date content across the GI Network.