Drop and give a thousand for Jack

When he came onto the national scene in the 1950s, Jack LaLanne was a lone voice in a nation where bowling and horseshoes were considered ways to stay fit. When he left the world Sunday at age 96, LaLanne was a fitness icon who redefined our notion of living healthy with the simple message that eating well and staying active simply made you feel better.

LaLanne became a household name in the 1950s when he began showing up in living rooms nationwide for a half hour of “trimnastics.” Through the miracle of television, LaLanne became not just the first personal trainer, but the first to make house calls. In his trademark zippered jumpsuit, typically zipped to just above his belly button, and ballet slippers, and with his penchant for focusing on such problem areas as the thighs, hips, midsection and face, LaLanne’s target audience was housewives and moms who were still a good decade away from gravitating into the workforce. With just a towel and a chair, LaLanne promised to whip his captive clientele — these were the days of three TV stations — into shape. He stood on your transom promising to make you feel better, asked permission before entering your home, politely wiped his feet, then forged friendships which quickly grew into the millions. The Jack LaLanne Show lasted into the 1970s.

LaLanne knew what it was like to be to be a physical mess. As a youth, he was an addict — with a bad sugar habit. When he was 15 he went to hear pioneering nutritionist Paul Bragg speak. At a time when recipes couldn’t demand enough lard and red meat was king, Bragg was touting the benefits of brown rice, whole wheat and a vegetarian diet.

The lecture changed LaLanne’s life, and he immediately wanted to change the lives of others as well. His first fitness venture was a makeshift backyard gym in which he experimented with neighborhood cops and firemen — his “guinea pigs,” as he called them.

Pioneering as he was — he was the first to open a modern health spa, the first to have a nationally syndicated exercise show on TV and the first to advocate weight training for athletes, women and the elderly — his approach is as sound today as it was then. He stressed proper breathing, stretching,  the need for fruits and vegetables (his Power Juicer promised to deliver the benefits of both in one frothy glass) and the overall importance of simply staying active.

“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.”

Never too late, for instance, to do Herculean, if not quirky, physical feats. In 1956, when he was 42, he set a world record of 1,033 pushups in 23 minutes on the TV show “You Asked for It.” In 1974, a 60-year-old LaLanne swam from Alcatraz Island to Fisherman’s Wharf handcuffed, shackled and towing a 1,000-pound boat. When he was 70, in 1984, he towed 70 boats with 70 people from the Queen’s Way Bridge in the Long Beach Harbor to the Queen Mary, a distance of a mile and a half, again handcuffed and shackled.

He also showed that staying active kept the mind sharp. “I can’t afford to die,” he said when he was 92. “It would wreck my image.”

His efforts were recognized by organizations ranging from the President’s Council on Physical Fitness and the American Cancer Society, to the American Heart Association, and the American Medical Association. Awards ranged from Arnold Schwarzenegger’s The Arnold Lifetime Achievement Award to the Jack Webb Award from the Los Angeles Police Historical Society.

Bob Barker, longtime host of “The Price is Right” and another example of age not slowing a body down, spoke of his friend LaLanne on Sunday. “He never lost enthusiasm for life and physical fitness,” Barker, who is 87, told The Associated Press. “I saw him in about 2007 and he still looked remarkably good. He still looked like the same enthusiastic guy that he always was.”

Here’s more on the long and vibrant life of Jack LaLanne.


In addition to those previously mentioned, LaLanne’s Web site credits him with being responsible for the first:

  • Modern health spa
  • Nationally syndicated exercise show on television
  • Weight-loss Instant Breakfast meal replacement drink
  • Coed health club
  • Snack nutrition bar
  • Leg extension machine, cable/pulley machines, calf machines, wrist roll machines.

Words of wisdom

  • Your waistline is your lifeline.
  • Exercise is King, nutrition is Queen, put them together and you’ve got a kingdom.
  • Don’t exceed the feed limit.
  • Ten seconds on the lips and a lifetime on the hips.
  • Better to wear out than rust out
  • Do – don’t stew.
  • People don’t die of old age, they die of inactivity.
  • First we inspire them, then we perspire them.
  • You eat everyday, you sleep everyday, and your body was made to exercise everyday.
  • If man makes it, don’t eat it.
  • If it tastes good, spit it out.
  • Your health account is like your bank account: The more you put in, the more you can take out.

Physical feats

In addition to the aforementioned feats of strength, LaLanne also:

  • 1954, at 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, 41: Swam, handcuffed, from Alcatraz to Fisherman’s Wharf in San Francisco.
  • 1957, 43: Swam the Golden Gate Channel, towing a 2,500-pound cabin cruiser.
  • 1958, 44: “Maneuvered” a paddleboard 30 miles, 9-½ hours non-stop from Farallon Islands to the San Francisco shore.
  • 1959, 45: Completed 1,000 pushups and 1,000 chin-ups in 1 hours and 22 minutes.
  • 1975, 61: Swam the length of the Golden Gate Bridge, underwater, for a second time handcuffed, shackled and towing a 1,000-pound boat.
  • 1976, 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, 65: Towed 65 boats filled with 6,500-pounds of Louisiana Pacific wood pulp while handcuffed and shackled in Lake Ashinoko, near Tokyo.
  • 1980, 66: Towed 10 boats in North Miami filled with 77 people for over a mile in less than 1 hour.

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