A Fitness Icon Keeps His Juices Flowing
I should have known that Jack LaLanne was pulling a fast one, but my heart sank when I first saw the fitness guru slumped before the television in his hotel suite.
How well I remembered him for his bulging biceps and trademark tight black T-shirt and pants. There he would be on afternoon television, urging viewers to exercise with him or hawking his Jack LaLanne juicer.
"If man made it, don't eat it," he used to say, decades ahead of the popular movement to eat more whole foods.
Back then, LaLanne had slicked black hair. He was energetic, vital and, well, let's say it, sexy, even to a pre-pubescent kid like me.
In town recently to pick up a lifetime achievement award from the President's Council for Physical Fitness and Sports, LaLanne still looked trim, if a little grayer, as he sat in his hotel. But he was staring vacantly at the nightly news and didn't stir as I brushed past his chair. His cheery wife, Elaine -- "he calls me LaLa," she said -- welcomed me.
"Jack!" she said loudly and started introducing us when LaLanne suddenly leapt up and lunged halfway across the room to give me a bear hug.
"Fooled you, you sexy blond bombshell!" he teased, a 92-year-old Puck.
Of course, I should have known. He was old, but he was faking the senility.
Then he planted a kiss on my cheek and, nodding toward Elaine, said, "Leave a little air between us, so that she doesn't get jealous."
We all laughed, especially his wife of more than half a century. "He does this at all our speeches," she explained. "He shuffles out on stage and then he surprises people."
Decades ahead of today's obesity epidemic -- and while Richard Simmons and Jane Fonda were still in diapers -- LaLanne took his exercise crusade to the airwaves, demonstrating to Americans just becoming enamored with television how they could stay active while they viewed their favorite programs.
Would that a few more had paid attention.