Jack LaLanne: 1914-2011

LeLanne (left) meets 98lb weakling

News of the passing yesterday of Jack LaLanne at 96 brought me back to my encounter with the famous fitness guru 13 years ago at the Hollywood Collectors Show. LaLanne was just 83 then but he was still  probably the oldest guy in the room. He was probably the fittest, too.
The Hollywood Collectors Show (now known as the Hollywood Show) still brings out stars from TV’s past, with between 70 to 100 former celebrities attending the weekend-long events. Back at this show in 1998, stars from Gilligan’s Island, F-Troop, Leave it to Beaver and even the old Mickey Mouse Club were in the house.
LaLanne was attending his first Hollywood Collectors Show and he didn’t seem too happy about it. Despite his age, he was still working, shooting those overnight “juicer” infomercials. He seemed uneasy sitting next to guys like Lou “The Hulk” Ferringo and Eddie Haskell and Lumpy Rutherford (Ken Osmond and Frank Bank) who were all charging at least twenty bucks to sign 8 x 10 glossies from their glory days. LaLanne wasn’t happy having been spotted at the event by a member of the working press and made it clear that any monies coming his way were going straight to charity.
LaLanne was a true TV pioneer, getting his health and fitness message out in the ’50s. Early shows found him involved in stunts such as dragging tugboats by his teeth under San Francisco’s Golden Gate bridge!
He said he had to put up with a lot of resistance those first few years. “Don’t go to that Jack LaLanne,” he said people were told. “‘Old  people will die of a heart attack, you won’t get an erection, you’ll have hemmroids’…that’s what I had to go through.”
He was pretty worked up, too, about those “ThighMaster” ads that were then everywhere in late night. “They make me sick,” he said. “It’s a goddamn lie. They should throw them all in jail. Suzanne Somers–absolute atrocity. You have 640 muscles in your body and they all need work.”
The California native, of course, outlived most of his critics. He insisted I feel his muscle at the show and the dude still had the guns.
LaLanne used to joke that he can’t die; “It would be bad for business.” He died Sunday of pneumonia. Raise a glass of carrot juice in his honour.

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