US fitness guru Jack Lalanne dies at 96

Fitness guru Jack LaLanne, a brawny showman who towed boats while swimming handcuffed to encourage Americans to get healthy, has died at the age of 96, a spokeswoman for his company said.

LaLanne, who brought the concept of daily exercise to the American masses long before it became the norm, died Sunday of respiratory failure brought on by pneumonia, BeFit Enterprises spokeswoman Julia Baum said.

LaLanne died at his home in Morro Bay, California.

'Godfather of fitness'

The "Godfather of Fitness" opened what was believed to have been America's first fitness club, in Oakland, California, in 1936. He invented much of the exercise equipment seen in today's gyms, including leg extensions and cable-pulley systems.

"It is most gratifying for me to see that everything that I was preaching and advocating for over 75 years has come to fruition," he is quoted as saying on his website.

"Then, I was a crackpot and a charlatan. Today, I am an authority and believe me I can't die, it would ruin my image."

LaLanne hosted America's first national television show dedicated to exercise. Among his many awards and recognitions, at age 88 he received a star on the Hollywood Walk of Fame, where city officials placed flowers in his honour.

Life changing talk

LaLanne said his life changed at age 15 when he heard pioneer nutritionist Paul Bragg speak in Oakland. At that time, LaLanne recalled that he was eating unhealthy foods - like many teenagers do today.

But after the speech, he found that the local YMCA had a set of weights, and a career was born.

Before The Jack LaLanne Show went nationwide in 1959, LaLanne met his future wife, Elaine, who was a talent booker for an ABC affiliate in San Francisco. She was smoking a cigarette when LaLanne said to her: "You need to start eating apples, oranges, and bananas, and if I didn't like you, I wouldn't be telling you this."

LaLanne's publicity stunts were legendary.

Lelanne's world record

At age 42, he set what was believed to be a world record by doing 1,033 pushups in 23 minutes on television. He celebrated his 60th birthday by swimming from Alcatraz Island to Fisherman's Wharf in San Francisco while handcuffed, shackled and towing a 1,000-pound boat, according to his website.

LaLanne was a successful businessman, selling the Power Juicer, books, fitness videos, and clothing.

He is survived by his wife and their three children.(Sapa/ January 2011)

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