CARVILLE: A tribute to Jack |

CARVILLE: A tribute to Jack

It is September 26, 2017 and I am sitting here in Grass Valley writing this article. I am thinking of a guy who was born exactly 103 years ago today — Jack LaLanne (1914 – 2011).

For those of you who are in my “age bracket,” you probably know of him, and probably liked him a lot. I watched his TV show as a kid and I liked him too.

Jack was “the Godfather of Fitness,” the first fitness superhero. Born in San Francisco and raised in Bakersfield, he later moved to Berkeley. His father died at the age of 58 of a heart attack, caused in part by poor nutrition.  

Jack wrote that as a boy he was a “sugarholic” and “junk food junkie.” He had violent episodes directed against himself and others, describing himself as “a miserable goddamn kid … it was like hell.”

In 1936 at the age of 21, he opened in Oakland what is considered the nation’s first health club where he supervised weight and exercise training and gave nutritional advice. Here is a little of his philosophy.



His primary goal was to motivate his clients to improve their overall health. However, in those days, doctors advised their patients to stay away from his health club — a business totally unheard of at the time. They warned their patients that “LaLanne was an exercise nut,” whose programs would make them “muscle-bound” and cause severe medical problems.  

Jack recalled that “people thought I was a charlatan. The doctors were against me — they said that working out with weights would give people heart attacks and they would lose their sex drive.”


In the 1950’s Jack convinced the manager of a San Francisco TV station to allow him a 15-minute daily show. Jack, in his jumpsuit, encouraged housewives to exercise. He was so popular that he eventually became a nationally-known celebrity.

With unbounded enthusiasm, Jack went on to expand his chain of gyms, become a television star/showman and perform incredible feats of strength and stamina. Here are only a few:

At age 42: He did 1,033 push-ups in 23 minutes on the “You Asked for It” TV show.

At age 54: He badly beat the 21-year-old Arnold Schwarzenegger in a contest of strength. The amazed and graciously defeated Arnold admitted “That Jack LaLanne is an animal.”

At age 61: He swam the length of the Golden Gate Bridge, underwater and handcuffed, while towing 13 boats containing 76 people.

At age 70: Handcuffed and shackled, he towed 70 rowboats one mile against winds and currents in Long Beach Harbor.


Jack loved life: “Living is a pain in the butt. It’s like an athletic event. You’ve got to train for it. You’ve got to eat right. You’ve got to exercise. Your health account and your bank account, they’re the same thing. The more you put in, the more you can take out. Exercise is king, and nutrition is queen. Together, you have a kingdom.” Jack built a kingdom.


Jack encouraged women to lift weights though at the time it was thought this would make women look masculine and unattractive. Of course, the opposite happened.

Women knew they had to keep active and eat right in order to stay trim and healthy. Jack just gave them the encouragement to do what they already knew was right. Today, you will see as many women as men at the South Yuba Club. And they look great.


When asked about sex, LaLanne had a standard joke, saying that despite their advanced age, he and his wife still made love almost every night: “Almost on Monday, almost on Tuesday, almost on Wednesday …” 


“I’d hate to die; it would ruin my image.” Similarly, he stated, “If I died, people would say, ‘Oh look, Jack LaLanne died. He didn’t practice what he preached.’”

When Jack passed away at the age of 97, his family confirmed that Jack continued his traditional workout until the day before he died. Dear Jack, you have been an inspiration. Rest in Peace.


There are hundreds of you seniors out there in our community who have yet to take Jack’s advice. It is just common sense to get out of your chair and into the gym.

Give yourself a goal for 2018. Take charge of your life. Get to the gym. And maybe next year I’ll be writing an article about you, at age 70 towing 70 boats across Scott’s Flat Lake while handcuffed and shackled. I’d love to do that!

Phil Carville is a co-owner of the South Yuba Club. You can reach him at

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