Jack LaLanne has been known around the world as the “Godfather of Fitness” and the“First Fitness Superhero” who brought gyms, and health into the mainstream society.
From creating a household name in his own, ‘The Jack LaLanne Show,’ to preforming incredible feats of strength demonstrating his physique was not only looks, but also ‘real world’ examples of health – Jack showed everyone the importance of overall health. However, Jack’s life wasn’t always fitness related.
In his early years, he was a self proclaimed ‘junk food, and sugar addict.’ Jack’s life was in turmoil, he lashed out at the people close to him, while suffering with many illnesses, until one day he saw a speech given by Paul Bragg – which changed his life forever.
Bragg showed LaLanne the importance of healthy living through diet and exercise, and from that very moment, Jack went from strength to strength. Throughout the process, he played high school football, wrote fitness books, created a fitness empire, and helped people the world over live a healthier life.
Continuing to inspire people to this day, Jack’s fitness legacy lives on. Here’s his story:
|Full Name: Jack LaLanne|
|Year of Death||Nationality||Profession||Alias|
|2011||American||Bodybuilder, Fitness Model, Personal Trainer||Jack LaLanne|
|1950, 1960, 1970, 1980, 1990, 2000|
|Year of Death||2011|
|Profession||Bodybuilder, Fitness Model, Personal Trainer|
|Era||1950, 1960, 1970, 1980, 1990, 2000|
Fitness Records & Achievements
- 1954 (age 40) – swam the entire 8,981-foot (1.7 mi; 2.7 km) length of the Golden Gate Bridge in San Francisco, under water, with 140 lb (64 kg; 10 st) of air tanks and other equipment strapped to his body; a world record.
- 1955 (age 41) – swam from Alcatraz Island to Fisherman’s Wharf in San Francisco while handcuffed. When interviewed afterwards he was quoted as saying that the worst thing about the ordeal was being handcuffed, which significantly reduced his chance to do a jumping jack.
- 1956 (age 42) – set what was claimed as a world record of 1,033 push-ups in 23 minutes on You Asked For It, a television program hosted by Art Baker.
- 1957 (age 43) – swam the Golden Gate channel while towing a 2,500 lb (1,130 kg; 180 st) cabin cruiser. The swift ocean currents turned this one-mile (1.6 km) swim into a swimming distance of 6.5 miles (10.5 km).
- 1958 (age 44) – maneuvered a paddleboard nonstop from Farallon Islands to the San Francisco shore. The 30-mile (48 km) trip took 9.5 hours.
- 1959 (age 45) – did 1,000 jumping jacks and 1,000 chin-ups in 1 hour, 22 minutes, to promote The Jack LaLanne Show going nationwide. LaLanne said this was the most difficult of his stunts, but only because the skin on his hands started ripping off during the chin-ups. He felt he couldn’t stop because it would be seen as a public failure.
- 1974 (age 60) – For the second time, he swam from Alcatraz Island to Fisherman’s Wharf. Again, he was handcuffed, but this time he was also shackled and towed a 1,000 lb (450 kg; 71 st) boat, according to his obituary in Los Angeles Times in 2011 and his website. However, according to an account of this event published the day after it occurred in the Los Angeles Times, written by Philip Hager, a Times staff writer, LaLanne was neither handcuffed nor shackled if each of those terms has the conventional meaning of “tightly binding the wrists or ankles together with a pair of metal fasteners”. Hager says that LaLanne “had his hands and feet bound with cords that allowed minimal freedom”. But “minimal” clearly did not mean “no” freedom, since elsewhere in the article Hager describes LaLanne’s method of propulsion through the water as “half-breast-stroke, half-dog paddle” which is how you swim with your hands tied.
- 1975 (age 61) – Repeating his performance of 21 years earlier, he again swam the entire length of the Golden Gate Bridge, underwater and handcuffed, but this time he was shackled and towed a 1,000 lb (450 kg; 71 st) boat.
- 1976 (age 62) – To commemorate the “Spirit of ’76”, United States Bicentennial, he swam one mile (1.6 km) in Long Beach Harbor. He was handcuffed and shackled, and he towed 13 boats (representing the 13 original colonies) containing 76 people.
- 1979 (age 65) – towed 65 boats in Lake Ashinoko, near Tokyo, Japan. He was handcuffed and shackled, and the boats were filled with 6,500 lb (2,950 kg; 460 st) of Louisiana Pacific wood pulp.
- 1980 (age 66) – towed 10 boats in North Miami, Florida. The boats carried 77 people, and he towed them for over one mile (1.6 km) in less than one hour.
- 1984 (age 70) – handcuffed, shackled, and fighting strong winds and currents, he towed 70 rowboats, one with several guests, from the Queen’s Way Bridge in the Long Beach Harbor to the Queen Mary, 1 mile.
Movies & TV
- You Bet Your Life, (1957)
- Peter Gunn, (1960) LaLanne appeared in an episode with Craig Stevens.
- The Addams Family (Season 2, 1966), episode “Fester Goes on a Diet.”
- Batman (man on roof with girls, uncredited cameo) (1966)
- Fit & Fun Time (kids TV pilot) (1972)
- The Year Without Santa Claus (1974) Hercules
- Repossessed (1990)
- Amazing Discoveries (1991)
- The Simpsons (Season 10, 1999), episode “The Old Man and the C Student.”
- Beefcake (1999)
- Hollywood’s Magical Island: Catalina (2003)
- “Mostly True Stories: Urban Legends Revealed” (2004)
- Penn & Teller: Bullshit! (Season 2, 2004)
Francois Henri “Jack” LaLanne was born in San Francisco, California September 26, 1914. He was the son of Jennie and John LaLanne, who were French immigrants from Oloron-Sainte-Marie. Jack’s parents entered the U.S. in the 1880’s, both as young children at the Port of New Orleans.
LaLanne had two older brothers, named Ervil, who sadly died in childhood, and Norman, who gave LaLanne the nickname “Jack.” Growing up, Jack was raised in Bakersfield, California, but later moved to Berkeley, California circa 1928 with his family.
In 1939, Jack’s father died at the age of 58 in a San Francisco hospital. Jack said it was due to “coronary thrombosis and cirrhosis of the liver,” caused by a bad diet and lifestyle.
As a boy, Jack was addicted to sugar and processed food. He also had violent episodes, where he acted out against himself, and others around him. He described himself as “a miserable goddamn kid … it was like hell.”
Becoming Inspired By Fitness
Throughout his younger years, Jack not only had violent episodes, he also suffered with headaches and bulimia. At this point in his life, he dropped out of school at the age of 14.
It wasn’t until he was 15 when Jack finally broke the bad habits and turned his life around. This happened after listening to a public lecture conducted by Paul Bragg on the benefits of good nutrition, where he talked about the “evils of meat and sugar.”
After being moved by Bragg’s words, he finally knew the importance of good health and nutrition. This is when he started paying close attention to his diet, and exercise.
In Jack’s words, he was “born again.” Jack started working out daily, and slowly, he started to see results in not only his figure, but also his mental health.
Returning To Education
After Jack started to feel better in himself, he returned to school, where he started playing in the high school football team. Later on, Jack successfully entered college, where he earned a Doctor of Chiropractic degree.
Jack studied Henry Gray’s Anatomy of the Human Body and concentrated on bodybuilding and weightlifting.
When Jack started his new fitness lifestyle, and healthy eating, he was ridiculed in the beginning, with many people not understanding his new way of life. As Jack said;
“I had to take my lunch alone to the football field to eat so no one would see me eat my raw veggies, whole bread, raisins and nuts. You don’t know the crap I went through.”
First Bodybuilding Experience
Jack’s first experience in bodybuilding came when he saw two men working out in a backroom gym, which only they had the key to use it.
After asking the men if he could use their equipment, they laughed and said; “Kid, you can’t even lift those weights.”
Jack approached the two men and challenged them to a bet. If they couldn’t beat him in a wrestling match, they would allow him to use their weights.
After Jack successfully beat them both, they stuck to their word and gave him a key. Jack used their weights until he had enough money to buy his own.
The Jack LaLanne Show
After years of training, and developing his knowledge further, Jack began to publish numerous books, and eventually, he was given his own television program called The Jack LaLanne Show – which ran between 1953, and 1985.
Jack also invented numerous exercise machines, which included the pulley, and the leg extension, along with the famous Smith Machine.
Throughout his whole career, he was an avid promoter of fitness, where he encouraged women to join fitness clubs. He also coached the elderly and disabled, helping them to keep fit.
Alongside his accomplishments on TV, and promoting health and fitness across the country, Jack also became a successful bodybuilder – where he demonstrated his strength abilities.
It was Arnold Schwarzenegger who said; “That Jack LaLanne’s an animal!” after a competition which saw the 54 year old Jack beat the 21 year old Arnold in a bodybuilding contest.
Arnold also sited LaLanne for being “an apostle for fitness” with his efforts to inspire “billions all over the world to live healthier lives.” When Arnold became the Governor of California, he added LaLanne on the Governor’s Council on Physical Fitness.
It wan’t only Arnold who credited LaLanne for his efforts within the fitness community, Steve Reeves also said he was inspired by Jack to build a strong frame with a small waist.
Feats Of Strength & Fitness
Jack was such an advocate of fitness, he not only practiced what he preached with his daily workouts, but he also demonstrated it through enormous feats of strength. Breaking world records, and proving to everyone what can be achieved with years of hard work and determination.
Such events were the ‘Spirit of ’76,’ where he swam one mile (1.6 km) in Long Beach Harbor. In this event, he was handcuffed and shackled, while he pulled 13 boats, which represented the 13 original colonies – in total, the boats contained 76 people.
Another demonstration Jack achieved, was 1,033 push-ups in 23 minutes on the TV show ‘You Asked For It,’ which was claimed to be a world record.
Jack’s Sense Of Humor
When asked about his image, he said; “I’d hate to die; it would ruin my image.” He also said, “If I died, people would say ‘Oh look, Jack LaLanne died. He didn’t practice what he preached.’”
He was also asked about sex in his older age, and how it effected him. LaLanne had a standing joke explaining how he and his wife made love regularly, he said; “Almost on Monday, almost on Tuesday, almost on Wednesday.”
Lifetime Achievement Award
For his recognition throughout the years he worked in health, LaLanne received a Lifetime Achievement Award in 2007 at Muscle Beach in Venice Beach, California.
For his efforts in the fitness world, Jack LaLanne was inducted into the California Hall of Fame, with his own star on the Hollywood Walk of Fame.
On the 23 January 2011, LaLanne died of respiratory failure due to pneumonia at the age of 96. His family told the media he’d been sick for a week, but he refused to see a doctor.
They also said that he was performing his daily workout routine the day before his death. LaLanne was buried in the Memorial Park in Hollywood Hills, California.
Jack LaLanne inspired thousands of people the world over to live life to the fullest – his message still lives on today.
Working To Failure
LaLanne would like to train to failure on most of his workouts. He worked his muscles until they would fatigue. Many said he created the term, ‘training to failure,’ which is now a popular training method.
LaLanne enjoyed moving from on exercise to he other without stopping. Originally, many people said this would result in him becoming tight, and uncoordinated
However, Jack proved to everyone that he could not only work-out with constant intensity, but he could also preform acrobatics, such as doing on-handed balancing acts.
Jack often worked-out at home, either his swimming pool, or in the gym. He was openly criticized for his style of training where he avoided warming up.
LaLanne said; “15 minutes to warm up? Does a lion warm up when he’s hungry? ‘Uh oh, here comes an antelope. Better warm up.’ No! He just goes out there and eats the sucker.”
“I train like I’m training for the Olympics or for a Mr. America contest, the way I’ve always trained my whole life. You see, life is a battlefield. Life is survival of the fittest. How many healthy people do you know? How many happy people do you know?
Think about it. People work at dying, they don’t work at living. My workout is my obligation to life. It’s my tranquilizer. It’s part of the way I tell the truth—and telling the truth is what’s kept me going all these years.”
Living Life To Its Fullest
Jack was a firm believer that exercise would prevent many illnesses, he jokingly said; “I know so many people in their 80’s who have Alzheimer’s or are in a wheelchair or whatever. And I say to myself ‘I don’t want to live like that. I don’t want to be a burden on my family. I need to live life.’ And I’d hate dying; it would ruin my image.
Dying is easy. Living is a pain in the butt. It’s like an athletic event. You’ve got to train for it. You’ve got to eat right, you’ve got to exercise, your health account, your bank account, they’re the same thing. The more you put in, the more you can take out. Exercise is king and nutrition is queen: together, you have a kingdom.”
Jack LaLanne continued working-out for two hours a day into his 90’s, which included walking, swimming, and weight training circuits.
“If man made it, don’t eat it, and if it tastes good, spit it out.”
Whole Food Diet
After switching from a junk food based diet, Jack advocated whole foods, such as meat, fruit, and many vegetables. For 6 years, Jack was a vegetarian, however, he switched over to a pescatarian based diet, consisting of fish, and eggs.
LaLanne said that everyone should eat “fruit, eggs, and/or meat with whole wheat toast for breakfast.” Then, “a large salad and meat or fish for lunch; and a large salad, two vegetables, meat/fowl, and fruit for dinner.”
Eating Twice A Day
Jack preferred to eat two meals a day, a healthy breakfast, after his two hour workout, which consisted of “hard-boiled egg whites, a cup of broth, oatmeal with soy milk, and seasonal fruit.”
For his dinner meal, he would eat raw vegetables, egg whites, and fish.
LaLanne’s Dieting Advice
“Look at the average American diet: ice cream, butter, cheese, whole milk, all this fat. People don’t realize how much of this stuff you get by the end of the day. High blood pressure is from all this high-fat eating. Do you know how many calories are in butter, cheese, and ice cream?
Would you get your dog up in the morning for a cup of coffee and a donuts? Probably millions of Americans got up this morning with a cup of coffee, a cigarette, and a donuts. No wonder they are sick and fouled up.”
Idols and Influences
Jack LaLanne was first influenced by Paul Bragg when he saw him present the dangers of processed foods, and sugar. From there, Jack started to become a healthier individual.
He then stumbled upon two men working out in a backroom gym. This inspired him further to continue on his path towards lifting weights, and creating a healthy lifestyle.
Besides his own influences, Arnold Schwarzenegger and Steve Reeves were inspired by his groundbreaking techniques, along with his lean, and muscular physique.
What we can learn from Jack LaLanne
Jack LaLanne started his life as a junk food and sugar addict. He was an ‘out-of-control‘ child who struggled, not only with himself, but also the world around him. However, this all changed once he found the key to health and fitness.
After hearing Paul Bragg’s speech on the importance of nutrition, Jack went from strength to strength. First, he started with high school football, then, onto weightlifting. From there, he built an empire around his name that resembled the epitome of health in The Jack LaLanne Show, and numerous strength demonstrations.
After inspiring famous bodybuilders such as Arnold and Steve Reeves, and thousands of other fitness hopefuls, it’s clear to see Jack made his mark on the fitness world.
What we can learn from Jack LaLanne is; if you struggle with imbalances in your life through a bad diet, or unhealthy living – like Jack did in his early years. By following in his footsteps, you too could improve not only your physical, but also mental health, and perhaps, help others along the way.