Remembering Father of Fitness Jack LaLanne, Dead at 96

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Before Richard Simmons, there was Jack LaLanne. Clad in his trademark shiny jumpsuits LaLanne was among the first fitness gurus to exhort Americans to get off the couch and get active.

He led by example, exercising every day until his death from pneumonia complications on Sunday at age 96.

LaLanne, better known now for his juicer commercials and his line of fitness products, helmed one of the first workout shows on television, from the 1950s to the 1970s, targeting homemakers by urging them to exercise and strengthen muscles using nothing more than a chair and a towel. As USA Today reports, he’d encourage his viewers by saying:

“Come on, now, girls. We’re going to work on” — he’d pat his rear — “reducing the old back porch.”

He led the way for the exercise boom to follow, with Jane Fonda, Simmons and, more recently, Jillian Michaels following in his muscled footsteps. (More on 5 Fitness Apps to Get You Off the Couch)

A great salesman and avid promoter of the fit lifestyle, he regularly performed stunts during his ’60s to prove that physical fitness was ageless; one his favorite feats involved towing dozens of wooden boats as he swam in the chilly waters off San Francisco.

He admitted that he wasn’t always the best role model; as a teen, he was addicted to sugar and so unhappy he contemplated suicide. But after attending a lecture given by a nutritionist, he became a convert to living the healthy life.

While strength training and working out with weights is now a given part of most workout routines, pumping iron wasn’t popular before LaLanne’s time. He was among the first trainers to see its benefits and endorse weight workouts, particularly for non-athletes, as an important part of a lifelong fitness regimen. Studies have since documented how weight training can lower the risk of falls and fractures among the elderly, and reduce the risk of osteoporosis. (More on Even After a Morning Gym Session, a Day at the Desk Could Hurt Your Heart)

Addressing the growing obesity epidemic, LaLanne continued to stress the importance of staying active. “The only way you hurt the body, don’t use it,” he said during an interview last year.

Even after having heart surgery several years ago, LaLanne refused to let his mortality slow him down. “I can’t afford to die,” he famously said. “It would wreck my image.”

Not to worry, Jack. Your personality and your legacy will live on.

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