Jack LaLanne, whose obsession with grueling workouts and good nutrition, complemented by a salesman's gift, brought him recognition as the founder of the modern fitness movement, died Sunday, January 23, at his home in Morro Bay, CA. He was 96.
The cause was respiratory failure resulting from pneumonia, said his son Dan Doyle. Mr. LaLanne underwent heart-valve surgery in December 2009.
A self-described emotional and physical wreck while growing up in the San Francisco area, Mr. LaLanne began turning his life around, as he often told it, after hearing a talk on proper diet at age 15.
He started working out with weights when they were an oddity and, in 1936, he opened the prototype for the fitness spas to come—a gym, juice bar and health-food store—in an old office building in Oakland, CA.
"People thought I was a charlatan and a nut," he remembered. "The doctors were against me—they said that working out with weights would give people heart attacks and they would lose their sex drive." But Mr. LaLanne persevered, and he found a national pulpit on television.
"The Jack LaLanne Show" made its debut in 1951 as a local program in the San Francisco area, then went nationwide on daytime television in 1959. His short-sleeved jumpsuit showing off his impressive biceps, his props often limited to a broomstick, a chair and a rubber cord, Mr. LaLanne pranced through his exercise routines, most notably his fingertip push-ups.
He first was sponsored by the creator of a longevity pill, a 90-year-old man, but it sold poorly and he obtained Yami Yogurt as his new sponsor. "It tasted terrible, so I mixed it with prune juice and fruits," he told The New York Times in 2004. "Nobody thought about it until then. We made the guy a millionaire."
Mr. LaLanne's show continued into the mid-1980s. It had a second life in reruns on ESPN Classic. "We have over 3,000 shows," he said in 2004. "I own everything."
He invented forerunners of modern exercise machines, such as leg-extension and pulley devices. He marketed a Power Juicer to blend raw vegetables and fruits and a Glamour Stretcher cord, and he sold exercise videos and fitness books. He invited women to join his health clubs and encouraged the elderly and disabled to exercise.
At 60, he swam from Alcatraz Island to Fisherman's Wharf handcuffed, shackled and towing a 1,000-pound boat. At 70, handcuffed and shackled again, he towed 70 boats carrying 70 people a mile and a half through Long Beach Harbor.
Mr. LaLanne was born in San Francisco on Sept. 26, 1914, and spent his early years on his parents' sheep farm in Bakersfield. By age 15, the family having moved to the Bay Area, he was pimply and nearsighted, craved junk food and had dropped out of high school. That's when his mother took him to a women's club for a talk by Paul C. Bragg, a well-known speaker on health and nutrition.
That talk, he often said, turned his life around. He began experimenting with weights at the Berkeley YMCA, tossed aside cakes and cookies and studied Gray's Anatomy to learn about the body's muscles. He graduated from a chiropractic school.
Mr. LaLanne brimmed with optimism and restated a host of aphorisms for an active and fit life. "I can't die," he liked to say. "It would ruin my image."
The New York Times --