"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 November 26, 2010 Auburn beats Alabama 28-27 at the 75th Iron Bowl. In the largest comeback of the series’ history, the Auburn Tigers erase a 24-0 deficit in the 2nd quarter to overtake the Crimson Tide by a single point. Quarterback Cam Newton throws for 3 touchdown passes and rushes for a fourth TD to win the game. Over 100,000 spectators pack Alabama’s Bryant-Denny Stadium that day to watch the famous rivalry, which was first played in 1893.
BOXING November 11, 2000 Lennox Lewis defeats David Tua in a unanimous decision to retain the WBC, IBF and IBO heavyweight titles. It was the 40th bout for the British-born fighter who entered the professional ring after winning the super-heavyweight belt at the 1988 Seoul Olympics. Lewis retired in 2003 with a record of 41-2-1, having out-boxed the likes of Vitali Klitschko and Mike Tyson. His only career losses were to Hasim Rahman and Oliver McCall.
MOTOR RACING November 4, 1990 Ayrton Senna wins the Formula One Driver’s Championship despite falling short with gear box problems in the final race of the season at the Australian Grand Prix. It was the 2nd career victory for the Brazilian driver and the 3rd consecutive win for the constructor, McLaren-Honda. Senna would go on to claim the 1991 F1 driver’s podium as well, taking 7 of the 16 calendar races. Senna died in a crash in 1994 at the San Marino Grand Prix.
BASEBALL November 3, 1980 Walter Haas becomes CEO of the Oakland Athletics baseball team after buying the franchise from Charles Finley for $13 million. Haas, the Chairman of Levis Strauss & Company, wanted to prevent the A’s from leaving the Bay area for another city. Finley had won the World Series three years in a row with the A’s- 1972, 1973, 1974- though, in 1980 he was ready to sell the club to investors who considered moving the A’s to another market.