I interviewed Jack LaLanne and his beautiful wife, Elaine, in February, 2007, for an article in ELDR magazine. Jack was then 92 and Elaine 81. In honor of Jack LaLanne, who died at his home on Sunday at age 96, I am republishing my interview. To me, Jack was one a truly great American and I'm am honored to have known him.
Meet Fitness Legends Jack and Elaine LaLanne
Elaine and Jack recently appeared in Times Square to celebrate Jack’s 92nd birthday. They were set up for three hours outside ABC’s studio under the giant Jumbotron, which was airing their juicer infomercial. People enjoyed samples of juices which were made with Jack LaLanne’s Power Juicer. The LaLannes also gave away books and signed autographs as people lined up for blocks waiting for a chance to see them.
For 34 years, Jack and Elaine appeared five days a week on The Jack LaLanne Show, where they convinced millions of people to join the fitness craze by exercising and eating a healthy diet based on fresh fruits and vegetables. In 1936, Jack opened America’s first health club in Oakland, California, called the “Jack LaLanne Physical Culture Studio.”
Over the years, he invented many of the exercise machines that are common in today’s clubs, including the leg extension machine and the machines using cables. Through television shows, public appearances, and books—and by selling health-related products—they have been the most vocal and effective evangelists for preventive health the world has ever known.
There is little doubt that obesity, heart disease, diabetes and cancer rates, though alarming, would be even higher today if not for the Herculean efforts of Jack and Elaine LaLanne. Amazingly, at their “advanced” ages, they are now experiencing their most effective and successful time of life.
“This is the best year we’ve ever had,” Jack begins. “At 92, everyone wants us, they turn the crowds away and we always get standing ovations.”
“We work together so we can be together,” Elaine adds.
“We work together so we can play together,” Jack corrects her.
ELDR: You both have a lot of fun in your lives. Is that true?
“Oh yes,” Elaine says.
“If you go through life,” Jack says, “and you can’t have a little fun, then you’re sick.”
“Our secret,” Elaine confides, “is you have to have a friend.” She looks over to Jack and says, “Your wife is your friend, right?”
“Yeah,” Jack replies, “and don’t try to change each other.”
“That’s right,” Elaine says. “The trouble is too many people want to change the other person into what they are and you can’t do this. No two people are the same, just as no two leaves on a tree are alike. We are all individuals and we have to understand each other as such.”
“People don’t change, let me tell you,” Jacks says. “Everyone can’t be perfect like my wife.”
Can I ask you how you met?
Jack, who seems to be always quick with the one-liners, snaps back at me, “That’s none of your business.” Then he laughs.
“We met at KGO TV in San Francisco when I was co-host of the Les Malloy Show, a live 90 minute daily interview show with a 12 piece orchestra.
I did all the bookings and also appeared on the show. “I got a call from Oakland one day,” she continues, “and the person on the line said, ‘We’ve got this guy over here who can do pushups during your whole show,’ so I booked Jack on the program.”
When were you married?
Jack once again gets in the first response. “Forever. We’ve been together for 53 years. How do you like that?”
“Yeah, but we haven’t been married that long, I left Les Malloy and went with Jack in 1956,” Elaine volunteers, “and we were married in Las Vegas shortly thereafter.”
Do you guys still work out?
This time Elaine gets the first jab. “He rolls out and I roll over!”
“You’ve got to go at it hard and work on different muscles,” he continues.
“You know how you stay young, don’t you? You work your butt off. Anything you do in life that’s worthwhile, there’s a price to pay.”
Jack is on a roll now, and he changes the topic:
“I’ve never thought about making money. I only think about how can I help that lady, that old man...look at that fat person. How can I get him to start exercising and eating right? I’m really here to help people; I’m their salvation.”
“Any stupid ass can make money, but can you make money and help
people doing it?”
“I just bought a new Corvette. Would I put water in the gas tank? Of course not! You put junk into the human machine and it doesn’t run very good. First thing you know, you’re in the ol’ grave. Living is like training for an athletic event. You have to have goals and challenges; you need to exercise and eat right.”
“Isn’t he enthusiastic?” Elaine chimes in. “Have you ever seen anyone so enthusiastic? And I have to live with him.”
Elaine’s intervention gives me a chance to get a word in. I still want to know about Elaine’s exercise program.” “I work out in the gym and in the pool just like Jack,” she says. “I also work out in the hot tub doing hydronastics, which are aerobic water exercises Jack created.”
“We have a new pool,” she continues, “called the ‘River Pool,’ which is
a resistance pool. “We both work out every day,” she says. “Jack even has a series of exercises we do in our hotel room when we’re traveling.”
Do you still dance?
“Not regularly,” she replies, “but l still play golf and at the country club the other night Jack and I danced a few jitterbugs.”
At this point in the conversation, Jack breaks out singing a song to Elaine.
“You know what, Elaine? I’m writing you a song,” he sings. “I’m dancing with tears in my eyes, I’m dancing with you, Elaine, I’m dancing with you.”
“Oh, come on Jack,” Elaine says in a mildly chiding voice.
“Come on, Elaine,” he replies.
“What’s the matter with you? We do have a lot of fun in our lives, right?”
“Oh, yeah,” says Elaine.
You don’t have to answer this, but when I first met you, you were dancing at the Clairemont Hotel in Berkeley, and you were only 89 then. You told me you still had sex nearly every day.
Jack responds, “Nearly on Monday, nearly on Tuesday, nearly on
“I don’t think he said ‘every day,’” Elaine comments.
I swear he said that. He must have had two glasses of wine that night.
“Yeah, he must have,” replies Elaine. “We were on the Howard Stern show and I said, ‘nearly every day,’ and Jack came back with ‘nearly Monday, nearly Tuesday, etc.’—that’s where that came from.”
“Then Howard says,” Jack joins in, “what are you trying to do, steal my show, Jack? “I love his show and when nobody else would go on because he was so
controversial I went on and he’s never forgotten it,” Jack continues. “He works out every day.”
Does he really?
“Yeah, but he doesn’t know how to be funny.”
Is there anything you’d like to say about how the world is today?
Jack answers, “There is much to be done today. There are more overweight and sick people in America than ever before; it’s an epidemic. Anything in life is possible if you make it happen. It’s all up to you.”
“My dad died at 50 from a heart attack because he didn’t eat right, he didn’t exercise, he got fat…all that junk food and Jack couldn’t talk to him about this,”
Elaine adds. “His mother lived into her 90s because Jack was able to talk to her and get her into the gym.”
Do you have children?
“We have three one of each,” Jack jokes. “They’re all terrific because they don’t take after their dad; they take after Elaine.”
“We have two sons and a daughter, plus another daughter who died at age 21 from an automobile accident,”
Elaine says. “She looks down upon us and is always with us.”
“Our daughter is a chiropractor, one son is a terrific photographer and the other makes surfboards,” Jack continues.
Where are you two going to retire?
That is retiring,” Jack replies. “You’ve got to work at living. Do something you enjoy where you can help people.”
“If some of the older people have to retire from their jobs,” Elaine says, “they shouldn’t sit around the house and do nothing. They should get some interest or hobby to keep active, get out and be involved in the world.”