In 1951, The Jack La Lanne Show debuted on TV when a trim, muscular man, dressed in a form-fitting black short-sleeve shirt and leotards, looked into the camera, smiled and greeted vieweers. "Good morning and happy Monday morning to you. Thanks very, very much for letting me come into your home. You know, my name is Jack La Lanne."
Genial Jack La Lanne -- dark hair, square jaw, bright eyes, perfect posture -- was invited into American homes with his daily exercise show for more than 30 years.
Two decades later, in his 90s, La Lanne's in better shape than he was as a boy.
"From the time I was born," La Lanne says, "I was always a kind of a skinny, irritable kid. My mother used to appease me by giving me a piece of cloth with cornstarch, sugar and water. I'd suck on that thing. By the time I was four years old, my baby teeth had rotted out from all that sugar. I became a full blown 'sugar-holic,' -- sugar, sugar, sugar. By the time I was 15 years old, I had dropped out of school. I wanted to commit suicide. I couldn't stand these headaches I had every day - kids making fun of me. During that time, I attended a health [food] lecture.
That health food lecture changed his life. He started eating fresh fruits and vegetables, exercising, and lifting weights. He went on to open up gymnasiums and health food stores, then health spas. He invented weight-lifting machines and the popular callisthenic exercise known as Jumping Jacks. In the early 1960's, President Kennedy appointed him the founding member of the President's Council on Physical Fitness.
In the 1970's and 80's, La Lanne attracted international publicity with astonishing displays of strength and endurance. At this point, he was over 60 years old. He says he wanted to prove a point with these stunts.
"The first one I did: Nobody ever escaped from Alcatraz prison, San Francisco, right? So I put handcuffs on, jumped off Alcatraz prison, and swam over to San Francisco handcuffed. That made international publicity," he recalls. "Then every three or four years, I'd do a trick more difficult. I started towing boats from Alcatraz, handcuffed and shackled. I swam the [length of the] Golden Gate Bridge in San Francisco -underwater- to prove that you could still be an older person and do these things, that age doesn't mean anything. We are our own worst enemy. Who says you have to quit exercising when you're 40, 50, 60? That's ridiculous. The only way you hurt the body is when you don't use it. Inactivity - that is the killer."
And that's why Jack La Lanne still stays active -- exercising two hours a day, seven days a week -- even though, as he puts it, "I HATE to work out!"
"Do you think I like to work out?" I hate it. Talk to a thousand athletes. Ask them if they like to train. What do they say? Yuck! But they like the RESULTS, the results!" he says. "You name one thing in life that's meaningful that's cheap, free. You've got to work at it! You know I had a terrible head-on automobile accident ten years ago. I had both my knees operated on. Even in the hospital in bed I worked out. Man, it was just a good thing I was in shape or it [the accident] would have killed me. Anyway, life goes on, and I'm here. You know that song [sings]: 'This is the moment I've been waiting for!' You know, I've got so many plans!"
La Lanne says the last two years have been the most successful of his life. He travels across America, lecturing to high school, civic, and religious groups on the importance of fitness and nutrition. He appears on TV commercials to promote his juicer machine that turns fresh fruits and vegetables into healthy drinks.
Jack La Lanne says he puts "the carrot in front of the horse."
"Keep goals and challenges. The minute you get satisfied, you start going downhill. Even now, here I am: I'm going to be 92. I've never been busier in my life," he says. "When I lecture and do my personal experiences, maybe we're going to be responsible for helping somebody to save their life! Maybe there's somebody listening right now who's overweight and out of shape -- they're going to start exercising and eating better."
La Lanne today pokes fun at himself to send a serious message: "I can't die: it would wreck my image… I still keep my wife smiling. Not like I did when I was 21…Dying is easy. Living is tough…"
At 91, Jack La Lanne, known today as the Godfather of Fitness, is the way he was throughout his long career: modest, genuine, still the all-American likeable boy -- still an inspiration -- just older.