Fitness guru Jack LaLanne died of respiratory failure at the age of 96 today at his home in Morrow Bay, California (on the coast near Pismo Beach, north of Santa Barbara).
Born in San Francisco to French immigrants, LaLanne was addicted to sugar as a kid. He changed his ways at age 15 after hearing a talk by nutrition pioneer Paul Bragg. He got a Chiropractic degree and opened his first gym in Oakland at the age of 22.
Over the years he set a number of records and performed a number of public feats. He swam the Golden Gate in 1954 at age 40 underwater, with air tanks and 140 pounds of equipment, setting a world record. This is a famously difficult passage to swim due to swift ocean currents. But did that stop him? Heck, no. Nor did it stop him from swimming from Alcatraz to Fisherman’s Wharf handcuffed the following year, or paddling on a surboard from the Farralon Islands to San Francisco, or swimming the Golden Gate again — this time towing a 2,500-pound cabin cruiser.
He blamed processed foods for most of man’s ills, but believed organic food was “a bunch of bull.” In later years, he marketed a number of products packed with quacky goodness and cultural wackery, including freaky vitamin supplements, home gyms, and more. Take the Juice Tiger — one of LaLanne’s signature phrases was “That’s the power of the juice!” Juice Tigers were recalled in 1996 after “14 incidents resulting in at least eight lacerations to the hands, face, arms, and chest, and one permanent eye injury.”
Some LaLanne supporter has added on the Wikipedia page: “However, this is about 9 percent of the Juice Tiger models. Another 600,000 units were not recalled.” Is this guy awesome or what? His admirers still defend him in the little matter of a 1996 juicer recall involving facial lacerations! Next thing you know they’ll be sicking the minions of Xenu on Techyum!
Was the Juice Tiger recall the inspiration for the TV show Arrested Development‘s recurring gag the Cornballer, and was LaLanne himself the inspiration for that show’s Uncle Jack? Who knows?
Alls I know is that when I was a kid and I’d wake up at zero-dark-thirty, Jack LaLanne would be all there was to watch on TV. He’d lead me through a few calisthenics — or try to — and when one of my older relatives woke up, sometimes they’d amble, yawning, into the living room, point at the TV and say, “Jack LaLanne!” and sometimes, “He’s from Oakland!” I have the vague sense one of my distant ancestors knew someone who knew him.
And sometimes that’s enough.
Rest in peace, Jack LaLanne. May there be lots of juice in Fitness Heaven.
Info from Wikipedia.