WAS  MUCH MORE THAN HIS  JUICER MACHINE he frequently promoted

Jack LaLanne was/is my hero, for several reasons .  For one, there was the local interest as  he   grew up near my home,  in Berkeley, CA  and had one of the first health clubs in Oakland .   I remember, as a kid, watching his TV program in living black and white. He was older but I loved his spirit and self-assured attitude, something perhaps lacking in myself. He would sing ‘There’s No Tomorrow’ to the melody of “o Solo Mio,’ more familiar to me then as Elvis Presley’s ‘It’s Now or Never.’

Before exercising was popular, Lalanne was perhaps the one guy one could believe in.  He was certainly laughed at, by some,  in the beginning, though he must have had enough believers like me, as he stayed on the air for 34 years from the fifties thru the seventies and has continued to spread his gospel until now thru his spectacles like pulling boats on his birthday,  local appearances and special events.   I even bought not one, but two of his juicing machines just because they were his.   (Actually, I had forgotten I bought the first one  when I bought the second.) Unlike more  recent, trendy, younger, fitness gurus , many of whom LaLanne has outlived, Jack  was all about simple, common sense exercising. It was pushups, sit ups and the like. `Most of the other gurus faded fast, and passed on at younger ages, as LaLanne continued to spread his message. There was Pritikin, of the Pritikin diet and Atkins of the high card diet. Jim Fixx wrote the book how running could keep you fit, only to pass on while he was jogging, at a young age.. Then there was the Power Bar guy who passed at age 51. LaLanne even outlived his local protégé, Norman Marks, who LaLanne helped put in busines with one of the  first health clubs, in Oakland, on Harrison and 14th Street, not far from some property my parents owned; though Marks passed a couple years ago at 86, the club lives on.

With LaLanne there were no gimmicks, other than a simple simple ‘band’ to give one a deeper strectch or a chair to lean on. Sure, he sold some vitamins and the juicer, hailed by some; even if I could never get behind it I still have the box it came in proudly displayed high on a kitchen shelve with Jack smiling down. I remember his TV program, which aired out of San Francisco, which featured just Jack in his jumpsuit, sometimes accompanied by his dog. Organ music would swell when Jack told viewers to breathe out.

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Jack would introduce his straight ahead calisthenics in his confident, fast-talk style and finally sign off with his song. It was the 1950 and early 60s when local TV featured many colorful characters you don’t see any more, such as Al ‘Jaxxbeaux’ Collins and Mayor Art, along with LaLanne. Later, Jack’s popularity spread with national programming, yet LaLanne would always remain true to his California roots and maintain his main home in the seaside mid-state community of Morro Bay, where he was the local celebrity, along with his long-time second wife, Elaine, who would join often join him on specials, such as the recent retrospective on PBS, pubic television.

I loved LaLanne’s dramatic presentations,  like swimming to Alcatraz    on his 60th(?) birthday or pulling a boat for another birthday. He could be brash, saying ‘it’s crazy’ that people can’t devote a half hour for exercise three or four times a week to make them feel better ,healthier and live longer. Without that brashness, his message may not have gained the attention it did.  LaLanne is certainly a testament to that and the words are especially meaningful today with the obesity problem in America.

But Jack LaLanne was/ is a hero to me for a more personal reason. He was the same age as my Dad. I’ve often thought of the two in the same breath, admiring them both, and one couldn’t but help to think about who would outlive the other. Odds would probably have favored Lalanne, what with his healthy diet and two hours of daily exercise. My Dad likes his meat, rarely exercises and his somewhat overweight. However he is a man of moderation, and it goes to show especially now, that perhaps exercise can be a bit over-rated, especially if done in excess. A few years ago, I purchased a plaque from Jack , himself, that hangs proudly on my wall . It features a young Jack with his dog (pictured here), along with a piece of film from his old TV show and a ‘Certificate of Authenticity,’ showing that my plaque was ‘#57’ of limited edition 1,500. Included is the handwritten note, ‘To Burt, Best of Exercise…’ and also signed by Elaine. I will prize this plaque especially now. I’ve been to Jack’s favorite San Francisco haunt, the legendary John’s Grill, where a salad is named after him. I hear the candles are lit tonight in Jacks honor. I will try to pay tribute, myself , over the weekend. One of the last true hnd colorful characters is gone. He will be missed but remembered by some of us and in pages such as www.OldiesCountry.com and http://www.SeniorCountry.org.

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