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Guest Post: A Tribute For Trailblazer Jack LaLanne

January 24, 2011

Reader Paul (aka “paulie D” the creator of my rap) sent me this wonderful tribute to the late Jack LaLanne. Enjoy!

A Tribute for Trailblazer Jack LaLanne

We lost a distinguished, 96-year-old exercise guru Sunday who merits a tribute. Jack LaLanne, who died of pneumonia-related respiratory failure on Jan. 23 at the age of 96, was an unquestioned pioneer in promoting exercise and encouraging women to take part. LaLanne championed both causes before they became accepted norms of Western society.
He aired a television fitness television program during the 1950s, 1960s, 1970s and 1980s that required nothing more than a chair and a towel to participate. For awhile, his program also featured his pet dog, “Happy,” who probably helped LaLanne seem like a regular guy even though he was trim, muscular and a ready source of motivational words to his viewers.

Little known may have been the source of his deep desire to help others, following a youth that he confessed was spent addicted to sugar. LaLanne’s father died prematurely from cirrhosis of the liver and heart disease, despite his son attempting to persuade his dad to change his diet and lifestyle. To his credit, LaLanne reformed his own eating habits to focus on fruits, vegetables and other non-processded foods, while later devoting himself to helping others avoid the needless premature death that befell his father.
Indeed, LaLanne ushered in an era of fitness that future generations adopted without much question. Young women, in particular, should take heart from his unabashed advocacy for the fairer gender to exercise and use weight training as part of their daily routines. I recall my mother watching him and trying to keep up with the exercise guru when she could take a break from child care. As her youngest child, I began to watch the program with her and do the exercises right along with them both. It seemed much easier for me than for her but she still encouraged me — never forgetting to be a nurturing mother. I have maintained a lifelong devotion to exercise and fitness to this day.
There is a funny family story about LaLanne that I’ll share with you. My late grandmother came from a generation of women who were not encouraged to exercise. When a LaLanne swam from Alcatraz Island to Fisherman’s Wharf in San Francisco while in his 60s — handcuffed, shackled and towing a boat — she questioned aloud in the presence of a brother and me the wisdom of a person doing so. She speculated that such a feat might lead to injury or worse. Maybe for others it would but not for LaLanne, who maintained exercise as a lifestyle when many others his age already had retired.
She speculated that such behavior could “catch up with him.”
Even though women of her generation typically did not pursue formal exercise as a goal, many of them stayed active anyway by bending over to scrub floors vigorously, flipping mattresses on their own, and walking to and from the shopping center for groceries. My grandmother did all of these activities into her 80s. She never learned to drive but it may have helped her to stay reasonably fit by getting the groceries on foot after my grandfather died.
Our grandmother lived to be 99, while LaLanne died at 96. Rather than compare longevity and decide  which philosophy about exercise is correct on that basis, it seems clear to me that they both lived long and generally healthy lives well into their 90s. We should all be so fortunate.


Unlike them, we are blessed to have role models who have shown us that healthy living and staying physically active can prolong the length and quality of our lives. Today, life spans in the 90s no longer seem that usual. In 30 or 40 years, living past 100 may become just as common. It is a reminder to stay fit, eat healthy and keep moving to maintain the best quality of life we can for as long as possible.


6 Comments leave one →
  1. January 24, 2011 5:46 pm

    It’s sad to hear that LaLane had passed, but inspiring to hear the story of his life as told in this article. It made me think that I have never even considered what it might have been like to grow up in a society lacking positive fitness role models, not only because we’re bombarded with information about the positive effects of working out, but also because both of my parents themselves were terrific examples for me in that way – both maintaining a regular fitness regimen to this day, and they’re nearing 60!

    Thanks for sharing the article, Clare. I probably wouldn’t have ran by it otherwise…

  2. January 24, 2011 5:58 pm

    Made me sad to see this on the news this morn! He lived a great and fun life!

  3. January 24, 2011 7:06 pm

    I just saw this on TV! That is sad, but at the same time, what an amazing man!

  4. Miriam Grieb permalink
    January 25, 2011 3:55 pm

    As someone who grew up with Jack, I was both saddened of his loss and happy of the life that he led. As someone in my later 50’s, I have committed myself to a healthy lifestyle and being responsible for the choices that I make. Jack believed in proactivity and commitments to one’s health, as do I. In honor of Jack, I will be doing a three day walk ,remembering the fitness visionary that he was and the great life that he shared with his wife ( I remember his dog Happy too). Kudos and thank you Jack!


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