The energizer at 79: Fitness pioneer Jack Lalanne keeps going and going and going (March 24, 1994)

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By Martha Sherrill
Washington Post Staff Writer
Thursday, March 24, 1994

I can't die. It would ruin my image.

-- Jack LaLanne

MORRO BAY, CALIF. -- Elaine's driving, and he keeps turning around in the front seat, like a kid, laughing. He's bouncing along in an electric blue jumpsuit, red ascot, cordovan zip-up boots with scuffed toes. Jack LaLanne is 79 now and still emitting inhuman amounts of energy, as if he's hooked up to some higher voltage. He has so much good cheer, it's hard to believe he's French. He's so sunny, you keep thinking you might get a tan standing next to him. He gives and gives, goes and goes -- never needs a sip of anything like coffee or tea.

Dinner, though, did include some sauvignon blanc. A couple of kinds.

"Christ," he said, "why are you living if you can't have a little fun?" At his favorite seaside hangout, Dorn's, the legendary fitness guru ordered himself a 10-raw-vegetable salad and a piece of fresh fish to share with his wife, Elaine. While answering questions about his life, he broke into song twice, intimated his sex drive is still quite powerful, used such forgotten expressions as "anywho" and "you bet." He also asked his own

questions: about Conan O'Brien and grunge dressing and Hillary's health plan. ("I think fat, out-of-shape people should be fined," he says.) You see, up at his big house above the bay, LaLanne's got a 60-inch Mitsubishi television -- hooked up to a satellite dish -- in his shadowy dark lair, where he spends hours alone lounging on the brown leather sofas, ceaselessly sponging up information.

"Hey, waiter!" he'd shouted at dinner, "bring us another bottle of that organic wine!"

Sure, he doesn't look exactly the same. His hair is thinner, flatter on top. He limps, from two knee surgeries that haunt him. Age and time and gravity have effects on us all, even people like LaLanne who work out strenuously two hours every morning and have been drinking carrot juice since the Depression. But the weird thing is how vital -- bright, alert, curious -- some folks stay upstairs, how some people never tire of living.

Jack? Sometimes up in his lair, he tunes in to a Mexican music station and blasts that baby so loud Elaine starts laughing. He sings. He dances. He jumps around. "So many people go through life and never get a kick out of anything!" he says. "That music is so alive! It's got so much!"

Elaine steers the car up the foggy green hill where the LaLannes live. They moved here eight years ago to escape Hollywood and traffic, to live quieter, cheaper. LaLanne isn't a zillionaire like Richard Simmons or Jane Fonda. He and Elaine still work hard, do conventions, trade shows, try to sell the Juice Tiger juicer on the Home Shopping Network. Jack believes you gotta keep changing your workout -- to stay interested. Turns out you gotta keep changing the exercise toys too.

At the end of the driveway, a colossal statue rises out of the darkness and rain. It's a statue of Jack -- is it bronze or what? -- sitting at the front of the house, between two garage doors. Jack's hands are on his waist. His hair is thick and tousled. His chest is massive, buff, meaty. A warrior in a jumpsuit? The thing used to be out in the shrubs, out of sight. Elaine liked it there. Recently Jack had it moved in closer. It must be 10 feet tall -- just about the size he's always wanted to be.

Elaine looks up at it, and laughs.

CONTINUED     1                 >

© 1994 The Washington Post Company

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