Billy Pierson, during riding career of the 1940's.

Billy Pierson, during riding career of the 1940's.

Retired Rider and $64,000 Man Billy Pearson Dead at 82

Billy Pearson, a former jockey whose knowledge of art won him the top prize on the television game show "The $64,000 Question" in 1956, died Thanksgiving Day of pneumonia at his Kingston, N.Y., home. He was 82.

A native of Chicago, Pearson started his riding career in 1939 and rode into the 1950s. His mounts included California stakes winners Moonrush and Blue Reading. The former equaled Seabiscuit's track record in winning the 1949 Bay Meadows Handicap.

Pearson, who also rode in Europe as well as in Egypt and the Far East, first became interested in art after buying a house for his mother and outfitting it with antiques. He chose "Great Art and Artists" for "The $64,000 Question" and won over a field of contestants that include Ida Mae Sherburne. The 76-year-old resident of Nicholasville, Ky., chose "The Sport of Kings" category.

(The questions that Sherburne correctly answered in one of the preliminary rounds were:
1) At what track is the Grand National Steeplechase run?
2) Name the races which comprise the Triple Crown?
3) Name the only filly and the only imported horse ever to win the Kentucky Derby?
4) In what years did Man o' War race, how many races did he win, and what was the only horse ever to beat him?
5) Name seven of the eight Triple Crown winners and give the year in which each won the Triple Crown?).

Pearson used part of his earnings to buy more art. He later experienced tax problems and appeared on "The $64,000 Challenge," which he won. His autobiography "Don't Look Back" profiled his free-spirited attitude in life and the race track.

Pearson continued to collect art, and bought and refurbished houses to display the collectibles. In 1996, he was named one of the top 100 collectors in the U.S. by Art & Antiques magazine.

Married six times, Pearson is survived by his wife of 21 years, Margaret, and four daughters.