I was saddened to hear of the passing of one of America’s original Fitness Gurus: François Henri “Jack” LaLanne, who died last Sunday at the age of 96.
LaLanne was a lifelong proponent of vigorous physical activity and good nutrition, healthy practices for which he proselytized with a hyperevangelical fervor. The analogy with religion is deliberate and one with which LaLanne himself wholeheartedly concurred. ”Billy Graham was for the hereafter. I’m for the here and now,” he once said.
Just how tough was Jack?
One time in San Francisco, he swam from Alcatraz to Fisherman’s Wharf. That would have been impressive enough – he was 60 years old at the time – but to make it more interesting, he was handcuffed, shackled, and towing a 1,000-pound boat at the time. That was one of his minor feats of strength.
When he first met Arnold Schwarzenegger – then an up-and-coming young bodybuilder, soon to take the Mr. Universe crown – on Venice Beach, the two of them got into a contest to see which one could do the most pushups. LaLanne did 750 pushups with one hand; with the other hand, he handed Arnie’s ass to him, finishing the contest by slapping him silly. Reportedly, Schwarzenegger was so morose at being humiliated in front of his friends that he refused to eat or defecate for a fortnight.
Then there was the time LaLanne pulled an entire freight train a full two miles, using a chain and bit that he held between his massive teeth. Despite warnings to impressionable children not to try similar stunts, dentists reported a rash of teenage athletes with mouths full of teeth ripped out by the roots. Unlike LaLanne, they had not trained for the feat by eating an entire Boeing 707, bolt by bolt, over the course of thirty-eight months. Iron-poor blood? Not Jackie.
Jack LaLanne was the one person on the planet who could kick Chuck Norris’s ass. In fact, he frequently did – at least, until he was in his mid-eighties.
There were many who thought that LaLanne would never die, that he was mighty enough to beat the crap out of the Unexpected Visitor. But they were wrong, alas. A final, fatal bout of pneumonia carried him off, after first allowing ninety-six trips around the sun to soften him up a little.
Even in death, however, LaLanne – like John Barleycorn – proved the strongest man at last, acting as the sole pallbearer at his own funeral. Tough guy, that Jack! They sure as hell don’t make ’em like that anymore.