Jack LaLanne Biography

Inventor, Television Personality, Athlete (1914–2011)
The "godfather of fitness," Jack LaLanne, is known for his 1950s TV fitness program and for his endorsement of a power juicer in 2002.


Jack LaLanne was born on September 26, 1914, in San Francisco, California. As a teenager, he heard a nutritionist speak who left a lasting impression. Later in life, LaLanne opened the first U.S. fitness club and starred in the first exercise TV program.


Early Life

Television personality, fitness pioneer and inventor Francois Henri LaLanne, better known as Jack LaLanne, was born on September 26, 1914, in San Francisco, California. Because of his strength and endurance, even in his 90s, LaLanne was often referred to as the "godfather of fitness." He was the first to open a health club in the United States and to have an exercise show on television.

As a child, he ate a lot of sugary foods and got into trouble at school. "I was a sugarholic and a junk food junkie! It made me weak and it made me mean," LaLanne later said. But he completely changed his life around after attending a lecture by a nutritionist as a teenager. LaLanne cut out sugar and other unhealthy foods from his diet and began exercising. The one-time problem child transformed into a top high school athlete, playing on his school's football and wrestling teams.

Fitness Franchise

Unheard of at the time, LaLanne opened a health club in Oakland, California, in 1936. Some doctors reportedly advised their patients not to go to his gym and labeled him a health nut. LaLanne actively looked for customers, offering to help reshape their bodies. Encouraging people to do weight training, he even developed several fitness devices, including the first leg extension machine. His club also had a snack bar offering healthy foods as LaLanne advocated good nutrition as an important part of getting in shape. "Eat right and you can't go wrong," he once said. LaLanne eventually developed a chain of health clubs that he later sold to the Bally Entertainment Corporation.

In 1951, LaLanne was chosen by a health food company to host a local exercise show, which eventually went into national syndication. He led audiences through a series of exercises, dressed in what would be his trademark look, a tight-fitting blue jumpsuit that showed off his impressive physique. Known for his on-air quips, LaLanne offered a lot of advice to his audience, including the following comments: "your waistline is your lifeline", "ten seconds on the lips and a lifetime on the hips" and "people don't die of old age, they die of inactivity." Not only did he talk the talk about fitness, LaLanne definitely walked the walk, winning the Mr. America competition in 1955.

A superb salesman, LaLanne used stunts and other marketing tactics to draw attention to importance of fitness and to lure more viewers to his show. He swam the length of the Golden Gate Bridge underwater, carrying 140 pounds of equipment at the age of 40 in 1954. Making a world record, LaLanne did 1,033 pushups in 23 minutes in 1956. On the program itself, he used another successful ploy to entertain the audience. LaLanne had his dog Happy perform tricks while he did exercises.

For decades, LaLanne has followed a strict regimen. He gets up early and exercises for two hours - one hour of strength training and another hour of swimming. For breakfast, LaLanne has a protein shake. Fruit and egg whites are a typical lunch for him. Salad, brown rice, and grilled fish make up his usual dinner. LaLanne had not had sweets since he was a teenager and was vehemently opposed to eating dairy. "Am I a suckling calf? No other creature uses milk after they wean," LaLanne once told Sports Illustrated.

Later Years

For several generations, people woke up and worked out with The Jack LaLanne Show, which aired Monday through Friday for more than 30 years. He told audiences to "get up, exercise, and feel good!" In the 1980s, however, he was eclipsed by other popular fitness personalities, such as Jane Fonda, who scored a huge success with her workout videos, and his show was cancelled. LaLanne continued to appear on television in infomercials, hawking a variety of fitness- and wellness-related products.

At a time when many might be slowing down, LaLanne proved how strong and healthy he was when he turned 70. He swam a 1.5-mile section of Long Beach Harbor while towing 70 people in 70 boats in 1984. If that was not enough, LaLanne was also handcuffed and shackled at the time.

In 2002, Jack LaLanne scored a big success by endorsing a juicer. More than a million Jack LaLanne Power Juicers were sold between 2002 and 2004, according to BusinessWeek magazine. In addition to the juicer, he lent his support to a line of swimming pools and sold an assortment of books, videos, and other products through his own website.

Not one to retire, LaLanne worked on the health and wellness channel of VoiceAmerica, an Internet radio network, with his wife Elaine. They hosted a weekly program called Jack LaLanne Live!, which also featured their nephew Chris LaLanne. He continued to be a sought-after expert well into his 90s, giving interviews on health and fitness to television and print journalists around the country.

During his impressive career, LaLanne received many accolades. He has his own star on the Hollywood Walk of Fame as well as the 2007 Lifetime Achievement Award from the President's Council on Physical Fitness and Sports. LaLanne was also inducted into the Muscle Beach Venice Bodybuilding Hall of Fame in 2007.

Death and Legacy

Known as the "godfather of fitness," exercise expert Jack LaLanne passed away at his Morro Bay, California, home on January 23, 2011. He died of respiratory failure related to pneumonia, according to news reports. His wife released a statement on his passing, saying "I have not only lost my husband and a great American icon, but the best friend and most loving partner anyone could ever hope for." The couple had been married for 51 years. In addition to his wife, LaLanne is survived by his three children.

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