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01/23/2011

Jack LaLanne, fitness guru, dies at 96

January 23, 2011 |  6:55 pm

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Jack LaLanne, the seemingly eternal master of health and fitness who first popularized the idea that Americans should work out and eat right to retain youthfulness and vigor, has died. He was 96.

LaLanne died of respiratory failure due to pneumonia Sunday afternoon at his home in Morro Bay, Calif., his agent, Rick Hersh, told the Associated Press

Though for many years dismissed as merely a "muscle man" — a notion fueled to some extent by his amazing feats of strength — LaLanne was the spiritual father of the health movement that blossomed into a national craze of weight rooms, exercise classes and fancy sports clubs.

LaLanne opened what is commonly believed to be the nation's first health club, in Oakland in 1936. In the 1950s, he launched an early-morning televised exercise program keyed to housewives. He designed many now-familiar exercise machines, including leg extension machines and cable-pulley weights. And he proposed the then-radical idea that women, the elderly and even the disabled should work out to retain strength.

Full of exuberance and hyperbolic good cheer, LaLanne saw himself as a combination of cheerleader, rescuer and savior. And if his enthusiasm had a religious fervor to it, well, so be it.

"Well it is. It is a religion with me," he told What Is Enlightenment, a magazine dedicated to awareness, in 1999. "It's a way of life. A religion is a way of life, isn't it?"

"Billy Graham was for the hereafter. I'm for the here and now," he told The Times when he was almost 92, employing his usual rapid-fire patter.

Our complete news obituary can be found here.

--Claudia Luther

Photo: Known for his exuberance and good cheer, LaLanne saw himself as a combination cheerleader, rescuer and savior.

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