"I Can't Die, It Would Ruin My Image"
Decades before Jane Fonda sent millions of American women into their living rooms with her pop-in exercise videos, Jack LaLanne was
"I Can't Die, It Would Ruin My Image"
Decades before Jane Fonda sent millions of American women into their living rooms with her pop-in exercise videos, Jack LaLanne was busy preaching and practicing the benefits of active living.
The godfather of modern fitness died almost a decade ago but you wouldn’t know it from his namesake website, which celebrates LaLanne as if he were still with us, flexing his muscles and drinking power juice concoctions.
“I can’t die, it would ruin my image” was one of LaLanne’s colorful quips. Another was “Exercise is king, nutrition is queen, put them together and you’ve got a kingdom.”
Born in 1914 to French immigrants who settled in California, Francois Henri LaLanne was a self-described teenage wreck until he heard health lecturer, Paul Bragg, expound on the benefits of exercise and nutrition. The youngster was an instant convert.
His new religion, a body-building and nutrition-obsessed regimen, would eventually define his life and become a fixture in large segments of American culture.
At 21, LaLanne made the U.S. Olympic wrestling team and later on even flirted with professional wrestling. But it was in 1936 when LaLanne opened the country's first health club in Oakland, California, calling it the “Jack LaLanne Physical Culture Studio”.
He actively sought clients with the promise of reshaping their bodies through physical training and nutritional diets. Business was slow at first, so he offered massages to get people in the door. He then had a captive audience to suggest weights and exercise routines. LaLanne’s fitness center grew and he eventually sold the chain to Bally.
The exuberant trainer developed several workout devices including the first leg extension machines, the squat machine now known as the Smith machine, and other cable-pulley weights that are standard in most gyms today.
At the time, LaLanne was dismissed as a charlatan by doctors who advised against his workouts, warning that lifting weights risks heart attacks, diminishes sex drive and reduces a woman's feminine physique.
But the health guru was also an inveterate salesman, performing publicity stunts throughout his career to convince skeptics and promote himself and his products.
In 1954, the 40-year old athlete showman swam the length of the San Francisco Golden Gate Bridge underwater with 140 lbs. of air tanks and equipment. A year later, he swam handcuffed from Alcatraz to Fisherman’s Wharf and a year after that, he set a world record captured on TV by completing 1,033 pushups in 23 minutes.
LaLanne’s trim down, eat well, and pump iron gospel found its way to American households when he landed his own TV program in 1953. Beginning as a 15-minute morning show in San Francisco, it went nationwide by the end of the decade.
With his trademark jumpsuit and bulging bicepts, the “Jack LaLanne Show” ran until 1985, becoming the longest running exercise program on TV and the forerunner to today’s get-off-the-couch exhortation videos.
Jack the fitness evangelist wouldn’t have achieved his wide cultural and commercial success if it weren’t for Jack the consummate pitchman.
Well into his 60’s, the workout celebrity was still staging media stunts. In 1976, commemorating the ‘Spirit of ‘76’, he swam a mile in Long Beach Harbor, handcuffed and shackled and towing 13 boats with people in it. Three years later, he repeated another jaw-dropping aquatic stunt outside Tokyo, Japan.
LaLanne published books, delivered lectures, and hawked juice machines, protein powders and nutrition snack bars. But most importantly, he sold the fitness message to millions of Americans who marveled at his physical feats and were seduced by his passion for healthy living.
LaLanne died in 2011 at the age of 96, but in many ways the “Exercise King” never left us.
FOOTBALL February 6, 2011 The Green Bay Packers defeat the Pittsburgh Steelers 31-25 in Super Bowl XLV. Packers quarterback, Aaron Rodgers, launched 3 touchdowns and completed 24 of 39 passes to win the game MVP. His counterpart, Ben Roethlisberger, hurled 2 touchdowns and 2 interceptions, one of which resulted in a 37-yard running score against Pittsburgh. It was the 4th SB victory for Green Bay, the NFL’s first champions dating back to the 1966 season.
BASKETBALL February 11, 2001 The NBA holds its 50th All-Star game at the MCI Center in Washington, DC. Allen Iverson picked up the MVP after rallying the Eastern Conference to defeat the West in a narrow 111-110 game. Vince Carter (Toronto Raptors) and Iverson (Philadelphia 76ers) topped the highest number of selection votes from the East, while Shaquille O’Neal (Los Angeles Lakers) and Kobe Bryant (Los Angeles Lakers) were most popular in the West.
BASEBALL February 4, 1991 The Board of Directors at the Baseball Hall of Fame votes 12-0 to bar Pete Rose from being inducted. Due to his past gambling activities around the game, both as player and manager, Rose continues to be kept out of the prestigious institution. Playing for and managing the Cincinnati Reds from 1963-1989, Rose was a 17x All-Star and 3x World Series champion. In his playing career he batted .303, hit 4,256, and had RBI of 1,413.
MOTOR SPORTS February 15, 1981 Rich Petty wins the 23rd annual running of the Daytona 500. Rounding the 200-lap chase in just under 2 hours and 57 minutes, Petty beat Bobby Allison by 3½ seconds and brought out Buick’s first NASCAR win since 1956. It was the 7th and last Daytona 500 victory for the North Carolina native who still holds the record for most wins at the famed track. Petty is tied with Jimmy Johnson and Dale Earnhardt for the NASCAR series (7x).