Young Jack LaLanne

I remember this guy on TV, but never took his advice back then. Now I finally appreciate some of what he was preaching. He died yesterday at 96, after decades of eating healthy, exercising daily and maintaining a youthful physique. In 2006 he joked that “I can’t afford to die. It would wreck my image.”

LaLanne (pronounced lah-LAYN’) credited a sudden interest in fitness with transforming his life as a teen, and he worked tirelessly over the next eight decades to transform others’ lives, too.

“The only way you can hurt the body is not use it,” LaLanne said. “Inactivity is the killer and, remember, it’s never too late.”

His workout show was a television staple from the 1950s to the ’70s.

He also founded a chain of fitness studios that bore his name and in recent years touted the value of raw fruit and vegetables as he helped market a machine called Jack LaLanne’s Power Juicer.

When he turned 43 in 1957, he performed more than 1,000 push-ups in 23 minutes on the “You Asked For It” television show. At 60, he swam from Alcatraz Island to Fisherman’s Wharf in San Francisco – handcuffed, shackled and towing a boat. Ten years later, he performed a similar feat in Long Beach harbor. See some of his other achievements at the end of this post.

“I never think of my age, never,” LaLanne said in 1990. “I could be 20 or 100. I never think about it, I’m just me.”

Fellow bodybuilder and former California governor Arnold Schwarzenegger credited LaLanne with taking exercise out of the gymnasium and into living rooms.

the famous LaLanne fingertip push ups

“He laid the groundwork for others to have exercise programs,” Schwarzenegger said in 1990.

In 1936 in his native Oakland, LaLanne opened a health studio that included weight-training for women and athletes. Those were revolutionary notions at the time, because of the theory that weight training made an athlete slow and “muscle bound” and made a woman look masculine.

“You have to understand that it was absolutely forbidden in those days for athletes to use weights,” he once said. “It just wasn’t done. We had athletes who used to sneak into the studio to work out. “It was the same with women. Back then, women weren’t supposed to use weights.”

Jack at 71

“People thought I was a charlatan and a nut,” he remembered. “The doctors were against me — they said that working out with weights would give people heart attacks and they would lose their sex drive.” But Mr. LaLanne persevered, and he found a national pulpit in the age of television.

“The Jack LaLanne Show” made its debut in 1951 as a local program in the San Francisco area, then went nationwide on daytime television in 1959. His short-sleeved jumpsuit showing off his impressive biceps, his props often limited to a broomstick, a chair and a rubber cord, Mr. LaLanne pranced through his exercise routines, most notably his fingertip push-ups.

The son of poor French immigrants, he grew up to become a teenage sugar addict.

The turning point occurred one night when he heard a lecture by pioneering nutritionist Paul Bragg, who advocated the benefits of brown rice, whole wheat and a vegetarian diet.

“He got me so enthused,” LaLanne said.

Soon after, LaLanne constructed a makeshift gym in his back yard. “I had all these firemen and police working out there and I kind of used them as guinea pigs,” he said.

His own daily routine usually consisted of two hours of weightlifting and an hour in the swimming pool.

He ate two meals a day and shunned snacks.

Breakfast, following his morning workout, usually included several hard-boiled egg whites, a cup of broth, oatmeal with soy milk and seasonal fruit. For dinner he took his wife, Elaine, to restaurants that knew what he wanted: a salad with raw vegetables and egg whites along with fish — often salmon — and a mixture of red and white wine. He sometimes allowed himself a roast turkey sandwich, but never a cup of coffee.

Mr. LaLanne said he performed his exercises until he experienced “muscle fatigue,” lifting weights until it was impossible for him to continue. It produced results and, as he put it, “the ego in me” made the effort worthwhile.

“It’s a lifestyle, it’s something you do the rest of your life,” LaLanne said. “How long are you going to keep breathing? How long do you keep eating? You just do it.”

(This post is excerpted from an AP story by Andrew Dalton along with parts of the NY Times Story by Richard Goldstein.

I also found this list of accomplishments. Amazing if even half of them are true:)

1954 Age 40: Swam the length of the San Francisco Golden Gate Bridge underwater with 140 pounds of equipment, including two air tanks, an undisputed world record.

1955 Age 41: Swam, handcuffed, from Alcatraz to Fisherman’s Wharf in San Francisco, CA.

1956 Age 42: Set a world record of 1,033 pushups in 23 minutes on You Asked for It, a TV Show with Art Baker.

1957 Age 43: Swam the treacherous Golden Gate Channel, towing a 2,500-pound cabin cruiser. This involved fighting the cold, swift ocean currents that made the 1 mile swim a 6½ mile test of strength and endurance.

1958 Age 44: Maneuvered a paddleboard 30 miles, 9 hours non-stop from Farallon Islands to the San Francisco shore.

1959 Age 45: Completed 1,000 pushups and 1,000 chin-ups in 1 hours and 22 minutes.

1974 Age 60: Swam from Alcatraz Island to Fisherman’s Wharf, for a second time handcuffed, shackled and towing a 1,000-pound boat.

1975 Age 61: Swam the length of the Golden Gate Bridge, underwater, for a second time handcuffed, shackled and towing a 1,000-pound boat.

1976 Age 62: Commemorating the Spirit of 76,” swam 1 mile in Long Beach Harbor, handcuffed, shackled and towing 13 boats (representing the 13 original colonies) containing 76 people.

1979 Age 65: Towed 65 boats filled with 6,500-pounds of Lousiana Pacific wood pulp while handcuffed and shackled in Lake Ashinoko, near Tokyo, Japan.

1980 Age 66: Towed 10 boats in North Miami, Florida filled with 77 people for over a mile in less than 1 hour.

1984 Age 70: Handcuffed, shackled and fighting strong winds and currents, towed 70 boats with 70 people from the Queen’s Way Bridge in the Long Beach Harbor to the Queen Mary, 1½ miles.