Kathleen Norton

A man, a chair, a legend

Posted on: February 8, 2011

LaLanne success story

His only props were tight pants, great abs, a German shepherd named “Happy” and a chair.

Always a chair.

Combined with his personality, they gave him the staying power to be the star of the longest running fitness show in TV history.

Boomers, you know who I mean. He was a fixture on the black and white TVs of our childhoods.

Sometimes our mothers did squat thrusts and push-ups along with him. Sometimes they contorted their mouths as part of his anti-aging face workout.

Sometimes, they just stared.

Cigarettes and coffee cups in hand, they put down the laundry basket or the mop and the vacuum and sat on the couch, watching him bend and stretch.

Their staring seemed odd to us kids.

Why did our mothers stop everything? Why did they pause in their rants about the Idiot Box? Why did the act like zombies at a certain time of day?

It made no sense.

Later, we understood. Jack LaLanne was that kind of guy.

Wavy-haired, muscular and clean cut, he did jumping jacks to corny music and urged America’s housewives to cure themselves of “pooped-out-itis.’’

He was the boy-next-door and a fantasy gym teacher all rolled into one.

“You can do it!’’ he’d cheer. “Get up on your feet!’’

And if you were watching, you thought that you could.

Even if you were watching with a ring of smoke around your head and a cup of caffeine on your lap while your kids ate heaping bowl of Frosted Flakes with Ring Ding chasers.

For decades, Jack was called the “godfather’’ of fitness though by the time he died last month at age 96 you’d have to say he was more like the great-great grandfather of the fitness movement because of how many followed his TV footsteps.

Do you think Leotard Queen Jane Fonda’s or Gush Master Richard Simmons would have made it without Jack? Bob Greene? Denise Austin? Chuck Norris? Dr. Oz?

They owe him big time. And don’t think for a second that the “The Biggest Loser’’ doesn’t owe Jack for planting the TV seed for all the shows to come about fitness and second chances.

Jack did it without gimmicks or any shtick.

He had no sexy dancers mimicking his moves, no movie star status to cash in, no tropical beach as his backdrop and no machines doing the work.

He had only an anatomy chart he’d point to on TV, a common sense workout and an amazing personal childhood story.

Did you know that our energetic, smiling Jack once tried to attack his brother with a knife and set his house on fire?

That after he’d been thrown out of school his desperate mother took him to a lecture on the benefits of healthy eating?

That lecture changed everything. He went from sugarcoated teen to exercise impresario, advising vigorous workouts and body building regimens.

Some called him a crackpot but Jack had the last laugh on national television. Maybe he’s the reason so many Boomers have an age-defying attitude? We had a good teacher.

So rest in peace, Jack LaLanne. We’ll remember your style. We’ll remember your advice. We’ll remember your pants.

And we’ll remember your chair, too.


1 Response to "A man, a chair, a legend"

So true and aptly stated! Speaking of fitness, exercise….and FRESH AIR, I hear you are a snowshoeing fan. Do you want to venture out with me sometime??

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