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. Read the rest of this entry »

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