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Posted at 8:21 AM ET, 01/24/2011

Story pick: Jack LaLanne's good living

By J. Freedom du Lac

Fitness guru Jack LaLanne, who died Sunday at 96, was a paragon of health who often toyed with the notion that he'd be doing push-ups in perpetuity: When reporters came to see LaLanne his later years, he liked to play dead for them. The gag always made for good copy.

Here's a fine example, from a 2003 LaLanne profile written by Sam McManis for the San Francisco Chronicle. The quote at the end of this opening passage is a stone gem.

This figures to be the last place you would find Jack LaLanne, fitness icon to countless Americans of a certain age, on a gloriously sunny afternoon along the Central Coast. But there he is, supine on a sofa. His shoes are kicked off, his nose buried in a newspaper. The man is, for maybe the first time in his 88 years, completely at rest. In fact, he is not moving.

Elaine, LaLanne's wife of 45 years, calls from the entryway.

"Jack, you've got a visitor."

No response.

"Jack!"

She leads the visitor into the family room. "Jack, he's here."

Still, LaLanne is not moving. You start to worry. Is this repose or rigor mortis? Look closely, though, and the newspaper flutters slightly in his hands.

Then, without warning, LaLanne jumps to life, so energetically that you wonder whether a loose sofa spring has catapulted him to his feet.

Do not fear. Jack LaLanne is alive and well. He was not sleeping, either, he wants you to know. No couch potato, this guy. He just loves reading so much that he blocks out everything else. As for that brief fear that the "ageless man" has passed on, well, that notion is shattered after feeling his bone- crushing handshake and taking him up on the offer to punch his slate-hard abs.

He knows what you are thinking, too. Reporters periodically come to this fishing village to see how the "Godfather of Fitness," who opened the country's first health club in Oakland in 1936 and who was a staple of morning television for 30 years with the syndicated "Jack LaLanne Show," is getting along. After all, it's been a decade or two since he pulled one of his fitness stunts, such as swimming underwater from Alcatraz to the Golden Gate Bridge, towing 60 boats behind him.

LaLanne cackles in his mock gruff manner, then spits out the line he's being telling folks for decades.

"I can't die, young man. It would ruin my image."

The full profile is worth a read. Just be sure to do it on a StairMaster, a fitting tribute to a fitness icon.

By J. Freedom du Lac  | January 24, 2011; 8:21 AM ET
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