Jack LaLanne, a fitness and health expert who was decades ahead of his time and led the nation on its first health kick, has died of complications from pneumonia following a brief illness, according to his family.
LaLanne, who was the unlikeliest fitness buff, a sickly kid of 5-foot-6, turned around his life at 15 when his mother took him to a lecture by Paul C. Bragg, at that time, a well-known advocate of health and nutrition.
LaLanne’s genius was he saw the connection between healthy eating and exercise, and began actively promoting diet and exercise at a time when the medical establishment and most experts thought he was a nut.
But he persisted. Added to the mix was a salesmen’s gift of gab, and he parlayed his philosophy and upbeat attitude into a lasting career that spanned seven decades.
LaLanne famously said, “I can’t die. It would ruin my image.”
The secret to his longevity was two hours of exercise a day, usually lifting weights for 90 minutes and swimming the rest of the time.
He followed the routine religiously until a few months ago, even though he once confessed that he hated to work out.
He added to that a diet based on fruits and raw vegetables, and swore off white flour, coffee, most fats and sugar.
“I can’t die,” LaLanne would say. “It would ruin my image.”
In 1936, he opened his first spa and fitness center in Oakland, Calif. It included a gym, juice bar and health food store.
Soon he had more than 100 gyms nationwide.
He also became a savvy mass marketer.
He invented his own exercise machines, marketed a Power Juicer to blend raw fruits and vegetables and sold exercise videos and fitness books.
In 1951, at the dawn of television, LaLanne took to the new medium like a duck to water and launched his first show. In 1959, he went national and remained on the air for more than 30 years.
To help promote his show and fitness philosophy, he would also walk the walk, performing fitness stunts that defied his age.
When he was 45, in 1959, he did 1,000 push-ups and 1,000 chin-ups in 86 minutes.
In 1984, he towed 70 boats filled with 70 people more than a mile and a half in Long Beach Harbor. He was 70 at the time.
LaLanne said in 2007 his focus was always to help people the way Bragg had helped him, adding, “Billy Graham is for the hereafter, I’m for the here and now!”
LaLanne was born on Sept. 26, 1914, in San Francisco, the son of French immigrants.
LaLanne fell ill and died from complications caused by pneumonia at his home in Morro Bay.
“He was surrounded by his family and passed very peacefully and in no distress … and with the football game on Sunday, so everything was normal,” daughter Yvonne LaLanne, 66, told Reuters.