Jack Lalanne (26 September 1914 – 23 January 2011) was an American fitness, exercise, and nutritional expert and motivational speaker who is sometimes called “the godfather of fitness” and the “first fitness superhero.” He described himself as being a “sugarholic” and a “junk food junkie” until he was 15. He also had behavioral problems, but “turned his life around” after listening to a public lecture about the benefits of good nutrition. During his career, he came to believe that the country’s overall health depended on the health of its population, writing that “physical culture and nutrition—is the salvation of America.”
Decades before health and fitness began being promoted by celebrities like Jane Fonda and Richard Simmons, LaLanne was already widely recognized for publicly preaching the health benefits of regular exercise and a good diet. He published numerous books on fitness and hosted the fitness television program The Jack LaLanne Show between 1953 and 1985. As early as 1936, at age 21, he opened one of the nation’s first fitness gyms in Oakland, California, which became a prototype for dozens of similar gyms using his name. One of his 1950s television exercise programs was aimed toward women, whom he also encouraged to join his health clubs. He invented a number of exercise machines, including leg-extension and pulley devices. Besides producing his own series of videos, he coached the elderly and disabled to not forgo exercise, believing it would enable them to enhance their strength.
LaLanne also gained recognition for his success as a bodybuilder, as well as for his prodigious feats of strength. Arnold Schwarzenegger once exclaimed “That Jack LaLanne’s an animal!” after a 54-year-old LaLanne beat then 21-year-old Schwarzenegger badly in an informal contest. On the occasion of LaLanne’s death, Schwarzenegger credited LaLanne for being “an apostle for fitness” by inspiring “billions all over the world to live healthier lives.”