LOS ANGELES – Jack LaLanne, the fitness guru who inspired television viewers to trim down, eat well and pump iron for decades before diet and exercise became a national obsession, died Sunday. He was 96.
LaLanne died of respiratory failure due to pneumonia Sunday afternoon at his home in Morro Bay on California’s central coast, his longtime agent Rick Hersh said.
LaLanne ate healthy and exercised every day of his life up until the end, Hersh said.
“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,” Elaine LaLanne, LaLanne’s wife of 51 years and a frequent partner in his television appearances, said in a written statement.
His workout show was a television staple from the 1950s to the ’70s. 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.
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.
“I guess I was a pioneer,” LaLanne 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.
“He got me so enthused,” LaLanne said. “After the lecture I went to his dressing room and spent an hour and a half with him. He said, ‘Jack, you’re a walking garbage can.’ ”
Soon after, LaLanne constructed a makeshift gym in his backyard. “I had all these firemen and police working out there and I kind of used them as guinea pigs,” he said.
In addition to his wife, he is survived by two sons, Dan and Jon, and a daughter, Yvonne.