You’ve probably heard how Jack LaLanne, aka the “godfather of fitness,” celebrated his 70th birthday by swimming 1.5 miles in a harbor, towing 70 people in 70 boats – while handcuffed and shackled. He did many feats of strength like that during his 96-year life. But did you know that he had ties to the pool and spa industry? Or that a son also was involved in the industry?
First, some basics: Born in 1914 in San Francisco, Francois Henri LaLanne, better known as Jack LaLanne, was a junk food junkie until he attended a lecture by a nutritionist as a teen. That aha moment caused him to change his ways, and he began eating healthy, exercising and later becoming a football player and wrestler in high school.
As an adult, he opened the first health club, in Oakland, Calif., in 1936 -- and also invented several exercise machines used in gyms to this day. Eventually, he sold the business to Bally. In 1951, he started “The Jack LaLanne Show” on TV, often joined by Elaine, his wife of 51 years. And, yes, that’s where he began wearing his trademark blue jumpsuit, which showed off his bulging muscles as he taught exercises. His show was on the air 34 years, then he segued into infomercials, pushing various healthy products, including his famous juicer.
LaLanne always began his day with a vigorous workout: an hour of weight lifting in his home gym followed by an hour in his resistance pool. In the 1970s, he and a business partner opened two Jack LaLanne Home Health Center retail stores in Southern California, selling exercise equipment, physical fitness books, vitamins and hot tubs. Why spas? “I have always been interested in hydrotherapy,” LaLanne told Pool & Spa News at the time. “Hot water is good for getting rid of tension and easing sore joints.” Not only that, but he believed a gym or workout area should be a basic feature of every American home.
Of Jack and Elaine’s three kids, it was son Jon who worked as a pool service technician for celebrities such as Barbara Streisand, James Cameron and Brittany Spears until the mid-2000s or so. He also was in a Malibu band called BlowGun. Last we heard, the younger LaLanne, a champion surfer, had a surfboard shop in Hawaii.
When his dad passed away in 2011, the world lost a unique voice. Always quick with a quip, LaLanne had so many sayings, it’s hard to pick a favorite, but here are two I particularly like: “I can’t die. It would ruin my image.” And, for those who failed to start the day with a healthy breakfast, he scolded: “Would you get your dog up in the morning and give him a cup of coffee, a cigarette and a doughnut?” Ahhh, Jack, we still miss ya.