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Long before “aerobics” was listed in Webster’s, Gilad made it to the beach, and Jane became a dance-exercise queen, there was Jack LaLanne.
In a muscle-defining jumpsuit and little ballet slippers, he strutted across the TV studio stage, with his dogs Happy and Smiley helping him now and then, while preaching strict nutrition, no sugar, and daily workouts that included both cardio- and strength-training.
LaLanne was a “physical culture expert” with a program of “trimnastics” whose muscled good looks and earnest boy-next-door grin helped welcome him into the homes of housewives, retirees and wanna-be exercisers all across the country. But it was his other-worldly feats of physicality — completing 1,033 pushups in 23 minutes and 50 seconds (1956), swimming from Alcatraz to San Francisco’s Fisherman’s Wharf (1955), and towing a 1,000-pound boat the same stretch but while shackled (1974, age 60) — that gained him renown.
On Oct. 15, 2009, LaLanne accepted a Lifetime Achievement Award at the Club Industry show. At age 95 — five decades after his TV show went national — he’s showing the years. His walk is a little slower, he leans on the lectern while talking, his hair is thinning, and his physique is lean. But LaLanne still has the passion, the spirit, the drive — and the tight pants and top that showed off a svelte figure.
Many in the standing-room-only audience of fitness professionals who jammed the room prior to the show’s opening hadn’t even been born when “The Jack LaLanne Show” was on the air. Still, the reception he received was enthusiastic.
“If there were more people like you, the world would be a better place,” he said after being escorted onto the stage with his wife of 50 years, Elaine, now 83 herself.
He may not be as steady, but mentally he shined, filling the room with his gravelly voice. He told stories of how he got started, the reactions he received when he had women lifting weights, and he even demonstrated a few V-sit leg lifts on a chair on the stage.
“Anything in life is possible,” he said. “I never thought about making money. I just wanted to help people.
“People just need help. They need a pat on the back, not a kick in the butt.”
Decades after he started trying to get America fit, he lamented the state of the public: “We haven’t made a dent in America. The numbers of people who are out of hope…. People are so fat. There’s no reason. It’s the damn advertisers. You pick up the magazines and all you see is sugar, cakes, fast food…. People get addicted and they don’t exercise, and they get fatter and fatter and fatter.”
At 95, LaLanne doesn’t worry about mincing words or being politically correct.
“I just bought a new Corvette sports car,” he said. The audience laughed and clapped loudly.
“Hell, I’m not dead,” he said with a smirk, explaining that he puts high-quality gasoline into the high-quality car otherwise, “You put crap in, crap comes out.”
Like we said, no words minced.
LaLanne has a list of LaLanne-isms that he has used so often over the years, he has a page on his website with them. Click here to take a look. On the website (www.jacklalanne.com), you can also watch old TV shows with the classic silhouette of LaLanne doing jumping jacks as the opener.
And, like for years on his TV show, to close the presentation, he and Elaine pushed their heads together to croon a little song: “It’s time to leave you, let’s say good-bye, these precious moments, just seem to fly.”
Then off he went to pose for pictures, do interviews, and sign autographs for the waiting throngs. Once the fitness icon, always the fitness icon.