RIP Jack LaLanne

Monday, January 24, 2011
By now you've probably heard that Jack LaLanne passed away on Sunday. As THE original health and fitness guru, it seemed that LaLanne would last forever. He came close, living to 96 years old, certainly a testament to a healthy lifestyle. To younger people, LaLanne is probably most recognizable for his branded juicer infomercials, but his impact on healthy living stretches back much earlier than that. My mother was a big fan of his in the 60s and 70s, when he hosted his own exercise and health show on national television called "The Jack LaLanne Show." This program actually ran in one form or another from 1951 to 1985.

LaLanne had a remarkable life - born in San Francisco in 1914 to French parents, he started out as a self described "miserable goddamn kid" who attempted suicide, beat up his brother, and even tried to burn his family's house down.

He was also an unhealthy teen, addicted to sugar and junk food. All that changed when he was 15 and went to listen to a talk given by a health food pioneer called Paul Bragg. That day changed LaLanne's life forever, as he studied up on human anatomy, improved his eating habits, and took up weightlifting and bodybuilding.

LaLanne later attended college and graduated with a doctor's degree in chiropractics. He opened his own gym in 1936 in Oakland, California and invented several weightlifting machines that are still used in health clubs today, most notably the Smith machine.

His half hour exercise show was simple: basic moves that needed no equipment, interspersed with nutrition tips and advice for living a happy and healthy life. LaLanne was always a bit ahead of his time - he encouraged women to lift weights when it was considered very unfeminine to do so, and he despised America's processed food, instructing his followers to eat foods as close to their natural state as possible. But this clip below from his TV program astounded me - he talks about how miserable many Americans are despite having the world at their feet, and how different the attitude is in poorer countries. Keep in mind this was during the 50s or 60s - and today our crummy attitude has only gotten worse:

These talks would come in between the workout moves, and sometimes they got a little preachy ("I've been studying this kind of stuff for a long time, so I know what I'm talking about" he says in one about sugar addiction) but LaLanne said so many times that he cared deeply for his "students" watching his program, as well as their health. In this heartfelt clip, he talks about his father's early death, an event that he somehow felt responsible for and probably never got over. It clearly inspired him to teach healthy living to millions of viewers:

You can watch several full length episodes of "The Jack LaLanne Show" on his official website, and there are tons of clips on YouTube. I think it's a shame that there are no fitness/health shows like his on daytime TV (non-cable) today. We've never needed them more in this time of epidemic obesity.

One thing I never knew about LaLanne were the public physical challenges he accomplished such as swimming a mile or more often while handcuffed and towing boats or people or sometimes even both. He set a world record in 1954 when he swam the entire length of the Golden Gate Bridge pulling 140 pounds of weight, including two air tanks. 

He became an inspiration to Arnold Schwarzenegger and Richard Simmons. I think it's a bit of a shame that he became a bit too spokesmanly later in life, pitching his juice machines and vitamins, but by then he had broke ground for teaching basic standards in exercise and nutrition to millions of Americans. He is survived by his wife Elaine and three children. 

His site attributes a nice quote to him: “Anything in Life is Possible, if YOU Make it Happen!” Rest in peace.


  1. This cat was so inspirational... even more so as a senior citizen! It just makes me realize that I really need to get my butt in gear now that I'm in my 40's, if I want to be active into my 50's and beyond. R.I.P. Jack.. you'll always be an inspiration!

  2. Darrin, I seriously got motivated watching these old clips...not only to keep up with my workouts, but to smile more! I intend to do that in public a lot more.

  3. Pam, if you really want to get motivated. Check out how active he was even into his nineties. Jack's quite an inspirational and youthful man. RIP Jack Llanne.

  4. This is really nice. It's always sad when someone passes away, but less so if they've had a happy and full life.

  5. Thanks, Desiree - I was a little surprised that no one was really talking about him on blogs and Facebook. He had such an impact on healthy living.

  6. Thanks you, hartfordlh. I agree that his recent videos are an inspiration but I love watching the old clips because they show how ahead of his time he was.

  7. I always loved that his wife's name was Elaine LaLanne. Always made me smile.

    I remember him well from growing up and also think he was a great inspiration. It also shows that all these get thin quick fads are really just that, a fad. He was sensible and it worked.

    RIP Jack. You were pretty great!

  8. Everyone watched Jack back in the day. He set the tone for today and his inspiration will last forever.

  9. I followed you over from "Losing the Shadow Behind me". I will definitely be back for more reading!
    I loved watching Jack on his info-mercials-- so I will be checking out his blog to see more of his shows!

  10. Agreed, Amanda, his teaching was really all about common sense.

    Thanks, Jodi - so glad you discovered the blog!

  11. Great Site - keep it up. I enjoyed watching the TV episodes of JackLaLanne. Besides, the wallpaper is great. Have a good day, Jens

  12. This was a great post, and I loved the clip about his father. I'm 60, have exercised all my life, and I think watching the old Jack Lalanne show as a child is partially responsible for that. He was an inspiration for a whole generation (and maybe two or three generations).


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