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Jumping Jack's Still a Flash

Here it comes, the festive day in this country, Sunday, Feb. 1,
when all Americans--men and women, young and old--gather together
and give up on their New Year's resolutions.

Your promise to eat right gets left. Your resolution to work out
doesn't work out. Your solemn vow to lose weight dies somewhere
between the Ding Dongs and the Domino's.

And the last person you want to call to celebrate with is Jack
LaLanne, the jerk who has ruined it for everybody by not missing
a single daily workout in 74 years.

Remember The Jack LaLanne Show? Your mom doing jumping jacks in
the family room? Jack in his short-sleeved jumpsuit? His German
shepherd, Happy?

Well, Happy's dead, but LaLanne is still at it. At 89, the 5'4"
LaLanne has a 46-inch chest, a 31-inch waist and can still do 100
push-ups without turning so much as light pink. His 90th birthday
is coming up in September, and he wants to celebrate by swimming
the 30 miles from Catalina Island to Long Beach, Calif.,
underwater, using air tanks. It'll take about 22 hours.

(For my 90th, I also plan to use air tanks, at home in a hospital
bed, gumming rice cakes.)

And when LaLanne looks out at this Cheez Doodle country of ours,
most of us doing impressions of three-days-dead walruses, he
wants to cry into his juicer.

"We have no pride, no discipline in this country!" rants LaLanne.
"We're serving junk food in schools! People think they can eat
anything and just sit on their big, fat butts! Athletes are
selling their souls to advertise crap that they know is no good
for kids--milk and cheeseburgers and candy! Why can't people see
that it's killing them! Any stupid ass can die! Living is hard!
You've got to work at living!"

He's not a fan of the Atkins diet: "It's a gimmick! All that
meat! You need whole-grain bread and cereals!"

Or dairy products: "Am I a suckling calf? No other creature uses
milk after they wean."

Or our eating habits: "Would you get your dog up in the morning
and give him a cup of coffee, a cigarette and a doughnut?"

Against all the unprincipled blowhards and liars in this country,
LaLanne stands out like a nun in a paddy wagon. He works out
every day from 5 a.m. to 7, pumping iron the first hour, swimming
the next.

His daily diet never sways: a protein soy drink for breakfast,
five pieces of fruit and four egg whites for lunch, and a salad
with 10 raw vegetables, brown rice and three ounces of grilled
fish for dinner. And a glass of wine. Party!

He says he hasn't had a sweet since he was 15, and his wife and
staff confirm it. "I tell him, 'A piece of carrot cake once in a
while can be a very good thing,'" says his secretary, Liz, "but
he'll never go for it."

Jack, are you nuts? "Yeah, I guess I am," he says.

You don't know the half of it. At 40, he swam from Alcatraz to
Fisherman's Wharf handcuffed. At 60, he did it again, towing a
rowboat with 1,000 pounds of sand. At 70, he jumped into Long
Beach Harbor handcuffed and towed 70 people in 70 boats for a
mile and a half. One birthday he did 1,000 chin-ups and 1,000
push-ups in 82 minutes.

Doesn't sound like a guy who once wanted to kill himself, does

A sugar addict at 15, he'd get splitting headaches and bang his
head against the wall trying to get rid of them. He was so skinny
the girls at his school beat him up. He set fire to his parents'
house, tried to attack his older brother with an ax. "I
considered suicide many times," LaLanne says. "I couldn't stand
[my life] anymore."

And then his mom took him to a lecture by a nutritionist, who
told him he was a human garbage can. That day, LaLanne resolved
to eat right and start exercising. Which is like saying, "That
day, young Bill Shakespeare resolved to try a little writing."

LaLanne became captain of the high school football team and an
all-conference wrestling champion, and he was offered a pro
baseball contract. He opened America's first health club, in 1936
in Oakland, and wound up with more than 100 clubs, which he
eventually licensed to Bally. In 1951 he invented the television
exercise program, The Jack LaLanne Show. People called him a
crackpot and said it would die in six weeks. It lasted 34 years.

Look around. Health clubs, health-food stores, jogging, Pilates,
yoga and personal trainers. It all started with Jack LaLanne.

To honor him, each one of us needs to wash-and-vac our bodies,
give up sweets, get in shape, demand that our kids get gym class
and healthy foods in schools and rid this country of the plague
of obesity.

First thing next year.



If you have a comment for Rick Reilly, send it to

At 89, LaLanne's got a 46-inch chest, a 31-inch waist and can do
100 push-ups without turning so much as light pink.