As a boy, LaLanne ate a lot of sugary junk food, and was “a miserable goddamn kid,” he said years later. “I was demented! I was psychotic! It was like a horror movie!” At 15, his mother took him to hear a lecture by health food pioneer Paul Bragg, and then and there LaLanne swore off junk food. He started to exercise, even though doctors preached against it: “The doctors used to say, …‘you’ll get hemorrhoids, you won’t get an erection, you women will look like men, you athletes will get muscle-bound’.”
But in 1936 he opened (in Oakland, Calif.) what’s considered the first health club in America, and of course had to design the weight machines himself. In 1951 he started an early morning TV show, in San Francisco; it went national by 1959, and ran until 1985, when he was 71. Meanwhile, he performed feats of strength as publicity stunts to show off his good health and promote his message. (Example: in 1984, at age 70, he swam a mile in Long Beach Harbor, while handcuffed, towing 70 boats holding 70 people. When he was awarded a Star on the Hollywood Walk of Fame, he did pushups over it — at age 88.) He often said “I can’t die, it would ruin my image,” but Francois Henri “Jack” LaLanne did die, at home on January 23, from pneumonia. He was 96.