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Monday, January 24, 2011

So Long, Jack LaLanne

Posted By on Mon, Jan 24, 2011 at 10:50 AM

click to enlarge jack_lalanne.gif

For Bay Area natives of a certain age, Jack LaLanne doing deep knee bends is enshrined alongside Charley and Humphrey or the KOFY dogs in the pantheon of childhood nostalgia.

LaLanne, who did for the fitness industry what Eli Whitney did for cotton gins, died yesterday at age 96.  The "Godfather of Fitness" was born in San Francisco, grew up in the East Bay, and got his start as a diet and exercise guru on San Francisco TV stations.

His marathon career spanned two stages: the "I can't believe he can do that!" era; and the "I can't believe a man that age can do that!" era. Your humble narrator wasn't around for the former, when LaLanne was sitting down with (and being spoofed by) Johnny Carson on The Tonight Show, donning his signature skin-tight, shiny workout suits that made him look like a 1950s sci-fi astronaut. But LaLanne did loom large in our household -- and, certainly, numerous Bay Area homes. Many a child was told that if Jack LaLanne could summon the energy to swim from Alcatraz pulling a boat with his teeth, we could manage to do the damn dishes.

In fact, acid-tongued Bay Area mothers had a rich vein to mine when cajoling their wastrel offspring to action via the astounding feats of geriatric superhero Jack LaLanne. To wit, from his website:

1957 Age 43: Swam the Golden Gate Channel, towing a 2,500-pound cabin cruiser;

1975 Age 61: Swam the length of the Golden Gate Bridge, underwater, for a second time handcuffed, shackled and towing a 1,000-pound boat;

1976 Age 62: Commemorating the "Spirit of '76", swam 1 mile in Long Beach Harbor, handcuffed, shackled and towing 13 boats (representing the 13 original colonies) containing 76 people;

1979 Age 65: Towed 65 boats filled with 6,500-pounds of Lousiana Pacific wood pulp while handcuffed and shackled in Lake Ashinoko, near Tokyo, Japan; 

1984 Age 70: Handcuffed, shackled and fighting strong winds and currents, towed 70 boats with 70 people from the Queen's Way Bridge in the Long Beach Harbor to the Queen Mary, 1.5 miles away.

LaLanne's melodramatic feats of strength certainly inspired people to live more healthily. But, if our home was any measure, he was also used as an exemplar to induce the cleaning of rooms, walking of dogs, and disposal of trash at the curbside.

RIP, sir. The forces of sloth have gained a great victory.

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About The Author

Joe Eskenazi

Joe Eskenazi

Joe Eskenazi was born in San Francisco, raised in the Bay Area, and attended U.C. Berkeley. He never left. "Your humble narrator" was a staff writer and columnist for SF Weekly from 2007 to 2015. He resides in the Excelsior with his wife, 4.3 miles from his birthplace and 5,474 from hers.


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