Jack “I can’t die, it would ruin my image” LaLanne is still going strong at 93.
Mr LaLanne is the father of the modern fitness movement, still preaching the gospel of diet and exercise, still pulling stunts.
Everyone knows the story. Jack was a 15 year old sugar fiend, and his mother had the good sense to know something was wrong.
“I was a sugarholic and a junk food junkie! It made me weak and it made me mean. It made me so sick I had boils, pimples and suffered from nearsightedness. Little girls used to beat me up.”
Legend has it that Jack chased his brother with an ax and tried to burn down the house in a sugar rage. Luckily, Jack’s desperate mum took him to hear pioneer nutritionist Paul Bragg speak and the kid was hooked.
He swore off all processed foods, and built himself a gym in his backyard. At the age of 21, he opened up the first modern health club in Oakland, California in 1936, in an upstairs room in an old office building. He developed the first leg extension machine and the first pulley machines using cables, all staples of today’s weight training. He actively encouraged women to train with weights.
“People thought I was a charlatan and a nut,” Jack says. “The doctors were against me – they said that working out with weights would give people heart attacks and they would lose their sex drive. Women would look like men and even varsity coaches predicted that their athletes would get muscle bound and banned them from lifting weights. I had to give these athletes keys so they could come in at night and work out in my gym.”
The gym soon had a juice bar and health food star, and LaLanne replicated these all over the country, selling supplements and health food bars he produced himself.
Beginning in 1951, LaLanne hosted TV’s first work-out programm, The Jack LaLanne Show. At first Jack had to buy San Francisco air time, because producers had no confidence in a show featuring this crazy guy doing exercises and exhorting his audience to “Get up, work out and Feel Better!”
By 1959, the show was syndicated nationwide and millions tuned in to LaLanne’s cheerful no nonsense approach every day until 1985. These days, Joe’s still on TV, promoting his Power Juicers.
LaLanne is almost as famous for his promotional stunts as he is for his physical fitness.
The most famous ones include performing 1000 push-ups and 1000 sit-ups in 86 minutes at the age of 45; in 1955 he swam handcuffed from Alcatraz to San Francisco; when he was 70, LaLanna had himself shackled and handcuffed and towed 70 boats over two kilometres in Long Beach habour.
He hasn’t missed a workoutâ€”one hour in the gym, one hour in the poolâ€”since 1930. He eats ten raw vegetables a day, eight egg whites, fish, fruit and brown rice. No sugar, no fat, no white flour.
“I don’t care how long I live, ” says Jack. “I just want to be living while I’m living.”