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First Fitness Hero Jack LaLanne Dies at 96

Jack LaLanneAll Around Hero

Jack LaLanne inspired the TV viewing world to get off their butts and into the gym over half a century ago. He walked his talk his entire adult life. He was a fitness fanatic who made it his mission to make sure everyone ate healthy and exercised.

LaLanne died Sunday afrom respiratory failure due to pneumonia. LaLanne credited a sudden interest in fitness with transforming his life as a teen, and he worked tirelessly over the next eight decades to transform others’ lives, too.

“The only way you can hurt the body is not use it,” LaLanne said. “Inactivity is the killer, and, remember, it’s never too late.”

His workout show was a television staple from the 1950s to the ’70s. LaLanne and his dog, Happy, encouraged kids to wake their mothers and drag them in front of the television set. He developed exercises that used no special equipment, just a chair and a towel.

He also founded a chain of fitness studios that bore his name and in recent years touted the value of raw fruit and vegetables as he helped market a machine called Jack LaLanne’s Power Juicer.

When he turned 43 in 1957, he performed more than 1,000 push-ups in 23 minutes on the “You Asked for It” television show. At 60, he swam from Alcatraz Island to Fisherman’s Wharf in San Francisco – handcuffed, shackled and towing a boat. Ten years later, he performed a similar feat in Long Beach harbor.

“I never think of my age, never,” LaLanne said in 1990. “I could be 20 or 100. I never think about it, I’m just me.”

Fellow bodybuilder and former California governor Arnold Schwarzenegger credited LaLanne with taking exercise out of the gymnasium and into living rooms.

“He laid the groundwork for others to have exercise programs, and now it has bloomed from that black and white program into a very colorful enterprise,” Schwarzenegger said in 1990.

In 1936 in his native Oakland, LaLanne opened a health studio that included weight-training for women and athletes. Those were revolutionary notions at the time, because of the theory that weight training made an athlete slow and “muscle bound” and made a woman look masculine.

“You have to understand that it was absolutely forbidden in those days for athletes to use weights,” he once said.

The son of poor French immigrants, he was born in 1914 and grew up to become a sugar addict, he said. The turning point occurred one night when he heard a lecture by pioneering nutritionist Paul Bragg, who advocated the benefits of brown rice, whole wheat and a vegetarian diet.

Soon after, LaLanne constructed a makeshift gym in his back yard, changing his lifestyle and life forever.