“Bodybuilding isn’t 90 minutes in the gym. It’s a lifestyle.” With his mother a well-known bodybuilder throughout Australia, Lee Priest was destined to take the stage and, despite his incredible speed and agility on the rugby field, gave up the sport in exchange to start weight training at only 12 years old under his grandfather’s guidance. Winning his first bodybuilding competition only a year later, it wasn’t long before Lee’s physique had reached professional level and earned him the IFBB Mr. Australia title at only 17 years old. Earning the title for the next two years but denied his professional card because of his age, everything changed for Priest at the 1993 IFBB Niagara Falls Pro where his ninth-place finish was overshadowed by an even bigger feat when he was given his professional card and became one of the youngest bodybuilders to ever enter the IFBB at 20 years old.
Standing at 5’4” tall and weighing 285 pounds in the off season with jaw-dropping 21-inch arms, bodybuilding obviously came natural to Priest as his grueling training routine allowed him to compete frequently throughout the year unlike most bodybuilders. With age finally working in his favor, he competed in 11 shows in 1997 including the Arnold Classic and Grands Prix in the Czech Republic, England, Finland, Germany, Hungary, Russia and Spain before making his Mr. Olympia debut. Coming in sixth place, he returned the following year for a seventh-place finish at only 26 years old.
Priest spent the next decade entering competition after competition but continued to fall short of victory at high-profile events like the Arnold Classic, Mr. Olympia and Night of Champions despite wins at the San Francisco Pro Invitational and the Grand Prix Australia. This forced him to focus on one of his favorite events—the Ironman Pro Invitational, which eluded him with top three finishes for a decade. Then, in 2006, he saw his hard work finally pay off with an impressive victory, which he followed up with the PDI Night of Champions.
Amid his growing success as one of the youngest in the industry, Priest set out to build his personal brand with the release of his training video—The Blonde Myth—in 1998. Taking his image to an entirely new level as Australia’s “Superman,” he released Another Blonde Myth in 2001 that offered his fans a sneak peek behind the scenes of his preparation for the 2000 Night of Champions as well as his wedding, life at home and training routine. By the time he showcased his talents in Training Camp and Career Highlights and It’s Not Revenge, Priest had quite the reputation in bodybuilding but not for the reasons he envisioned.
Proving early on that his age was an asset rather than an excuse for other bodybuilders to use against him, Priest has never been shy about sharing his opinions about the industry. In fact, his brutal honesty has often led to suspensions with the IFBB as well as numerous contract deals with sponsors being renegotiated or pulled altogether. Usually taking a strong stance against supplements and advocating for an all-natural approach to bodybuilding, Priest never let his opinions stand in the way of endorsement deals with companies like MuscleTech who used his impressive physique to market their products. However, it was only a matter of time before Priest took center stage discounting the company altogether.
As for his suspensions with the IFBB, Priest first got into hot water in 1994 when he signed a contract with a show only to qualify for the Mr. Olympia. Not wanting to miss out on his chance to better his standing in the contest, Priest supposedly asked Joe Weider to excuse him from the show so that he could focus on the Mr. Olympia. Unfortunately, Priest never followed up with the acting IFBB President, Wayne Demilia, who suspended Priest after he broke his contract and skipped the show. While many chalked this up to a simple misunderstanding, this marked the beginning of a long and tumultuous relationship between Priest and the IFBB, which culminated in 2006 when the Australian was suspended for competing with a different federation.
Priest planned to return to the IFBB stage in 2010 but a bicep injury made it impossible for him to train and eventually led to his professional card expiring. During this time, he appeared with John Romano on the VPX Shotgun Big Show where he happily bashed the IFBB and its judges. By 2012, any hopes he had of finding his way back into the IFBB’s good graces were completely squashed when the IFBB President confirmed that he had been banned for life.
Refusing to let his relationship with the IFBB keep him from competing, Priest joined the National Amateur Bodybuilder’s Association and returned to the stage in 2013 when he won the NABBA Mr. Universe title. A year later, he joined Muscle Sport Magazine as a columnist and was even featured on the cover of the Winter 2015 issue just months after the success of the Lee Priest Classic Australia 2015 and the Lee Priest Classic UK.
Apart from bodybuilding, the 44-year-old Priest has also dabbled in both racing and acting. Describing himself as an “avid racing enthusiast and champion race car driver,” Priest has won numerous races and titles in road racing and drag racing with his most successful wins coming in 2005 as Rookie of the Year and in 2006 as the SCEDA Racing Champion. As for his work in television and film, he’s appeared on the Australian series Rescue Special Ops and Big Brother Australia 2012 in addition to providing the bodywork for The Hulk film and video game. This success and his return to bodybuilding despite his ban just goes to prove that the Blonde Myth might be the most controversial figure in the industry but he’s also one of the greatest.