Tuesday, January 25, 2011

The Late,Great Jack LaLanne

Jack LaLanne, the man who advocated fitness and good nutrition for over seventy years, passed Sunday afternoon, 23 January 2011 at the age of 95. The cause was respiratory failure due to pneumonia.

Jack LaLanne was born Francois Henri LaLanne in San Francisco, California on 26 September 1914. It was his older brother who nicknamed him "Jack."  At age fifteen Mr. LaLanne was a troubled teenager and not particularly healthy. His mother took him to talk held by health food guru Paul C. Bragg at a local women's club. The talk literally changed his life. He began working out, studied Gray's Anatomy to learn about the muscles of the body, and improved his diet. He attended and graduated from Oakland Chiropractic College in San Francisco, but instead of opening a chiropractic practice, instead in 1936, at age 21, Jack LaLannne opened his first health spa. The spa was the predecessor to all modern health clubs, not only including a gym but a store and a juice bar as well.  He designed the ancestors of modern exercise machines, complete with leg extensions and pulleys. He also encouraged women, the elderly, and even the disabled to exercise. There was a good deal of initial resistance to Mr. LaLanne's message of exercise and good nutrition, with many physicians believing him a charlatan.

Despite his naysayers, Jack LaLanne proved to be a success. It was in 1951 that The Jack LaLanne Show debuted on local television in San Francisco. In 1958 it went nationwide. Its success lie in the fact that Mr. LaLanne addressed each member of the audience as if they were in the studio with him.In the early days he often featured his white German shepherd Happy. The Jack LaLanne Show ran 34 years. It would later be rerun on ESPN and is now available online at YouTube and elsewhere.

Over the years Jack LaLanne would perform a number of incredible feats. At age 40 he swam the entire length of the Golden Gate Bridge under water and with 140 pounds of equipment strapped to him. At age 41 he swam from Alcatraz Island to Fisherman's Wharf while handcuffed. In 1976, in commemoration of the American Bicentennial, Mr. LaLanne swam one mile in Long Beach Harbour while handcuffed, shackled, and towing thirteen boats containing 76 people. At age 70 he swam one mile from the Queen's Way Bridge in the Long Beach Harbour while handcuffed and shackled, and towing seventy rowboats, one with many people aboard.

Jack LaLanne would eventually have over 200 Jack LaLanne European Health Spas nationwide. He later licensed them to Bally. He also published several books on fitness and nutrition, as well as made videos and marketed a number of electric juicers. He also recorded a record album on fitness, released in 1959. Starting in 2007, he also appeared on Voice America Health and Wellness Radio Network on the radio show Jack LaLanne Live with his wife Elaine and his nephew Chris LaLanne. He also appeared in movies and TV Shows, including guest appearances on the shows Peter Gunn, Mister Ed, The Addams Family, Batman, Laugh In, The Simpsons, and Life with Bonnie. He appeared in the telefilm More Wild Wild West. He appeared in the films The Ladies Man (1961), The Happy Ending (1969), and Repossessed (1990).

It would not be exaggerating to call Jack LaLanne both a pioneer and a revolutionary. Almost fifty years before the fitness craze of the Eighties, Jack LaLanne was preaching fitness and nutrition to America. Thirty years before the first work out videos, he was guiding Americans through workouts on The Jack LaLanne Show. In fact, I dare say it would not be exaggerating to say that Mr. LaLanne virtually created the fitness craze. After all, for years he had been the only one telling Americans about working, nutrition, and good health. Even after the fitness craze of the Eighties established fitness as part of the American landscape, Jack LaLanne would be a pioneer. He showed Americans how to grow old gracefully, working out well into his nineties.

I can remember watching Jack LaLanne as a very young child, and even then I know why Jack LaLanne was so successful. He was no dumb jock by any means, but a man who was intelligent, charming, and personable, making you feel right at home watching his show. What is more it seemed as if he truly cared about his viewers, not encouraging to live healthier lives to sell more books, but instead to live better lives. A true pioneer who virtually crated the fitness industry, Jack LaLanne will be remembered for a long time to come.

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