Wednesday, January 26, 2011

Jack Lalanne... and what his death is saying about us

You don't see this picture very often in my very humble basement gym but it's my favorite picture that I've hung up. Several years ago, my wife wrote to and called Jack Lalanne, asking for an autograph (and possibly a phone call) for me. His agent arranged the former. I was so thrilled that I had it professionally laminated so it would, hopefully, last as long as the man himself did. Now we know how long it has to last to live up to the man himself: 96 years.

I was positively crushed when George "HIT" Richards reported on his Facebook profile on Sunday night that Jack Lalanne passed away. I have no illusions that he was going to live forever. We all owe a death at some point. It hurts to lose such great people though. There's a real shortage of them left in this world. Having him for as long as we did was a unique gift: he might have been the last of the original "Muscle Beach" crowd. He was part of the second wave of physical culturists who formed strength training world as we now know it.
His posse of iron men and women established California as a mecca for health and fitness that it is to this day. They made gyms and health spas popular in the USA. They brought fitness to the new media. It wasn't just Jack Lalanne's TV show. These guys trained most of the actors and stuntmen in Hollywood. Everything that we do now can be traced back to Jack and his friends. He was the bridge between the early Sandow years and the modern world of strength training as we know it.

In my opinion, this was also the greatest generation of strength trainers. We could go on about his physical feats, his Television show, and his juice machine but that really misses the real greatness of Jack Lalanne. This man can lay a solid claim to being the greatest example of how to nurture a body for the purpose of serving a greater purpose...EVER. Inner light can't shine through dirty windows and showed us, by example, how to let that light through. It's hard to put that kind of inspiration into words. It's something that anyone who has ever turned themselves from physically weak to physically strong can understand.

that transformation must be unpopular these days because I'm very underwhelmed, and frankly pretty pissed, at some of the coverage of his death. I detected a grain of mockery coming from people I hear on the news regarding his death. I've heard more references to his drunk driving arrest back in 1991 than I ever heard about Ted Kennedy's drinking binges when he died. I heard quips about his strict anti-sugar, quasi-vegetarian diet..."and he still died!" Or, about how he preached health and fitness as America got more and more unhealthy?

This evening turned into one of those, "what has America become?" moments. We lost someone who was an outrageously productive human being who we could trust to be an honest and good example to our children and we find reasons to point out how he wasn't perfect? Are we only happy if we see trashy excuses of human life shoved into our eyeballs on the tube?
Seriously though, what have we become? Can't we hold virtuous life with high regard? Why do we think it's okay to glorify how mediocre and internally filthy we've become? Is it funny that most of us eat about 160 lbs of refined sugar a year that we know is going to slowly kills us? Who is really insane here: most of us for doing this or Jack Lalanne for telling us for the past 60 years that this is suicidal?

What do you think? Enough sugar for a medium-sized American Town?
I think it comes down to judgement. Simply put: nobody wants to be told that what they're doing just plain sucks, even when it's so lately fucking stupid that it shouldn't even be a debate. Another mark of a great man is that they'll tell you the truth, no matter how badly it hurts. Jack told it to us straight, right up to the very end.

His example of lifelong clean, health, and strong living was the best idea for a goal that he gave his audience. We all love to set goals for ourselves. It's a tangible way of seeing progress. Those are all groovy things, don't get me wrong, but keeping ourselves healthy and strong for a lifetime could be the best goal to make. A healthy life makes all time spent training, regardless of how fun or how obligatory, a step in the right direction to fulfilling. Jack Lalanne said it best:

"People don’t die of old age, they die of inactivity."

"Better to wear out than rust out"

With that as a goal, every ounce of activity becomes meaningful; a middle finger given to the notion of a diseased life and dampened spirit. I thank you, Jack Lalanne, for that. We all do.


Aaron said...

Great post. Such a great man. Too bad our news stations only focus on the negatives these days... How many of those reporters could tow a boat full of people a mile? Or do anything close to what he accomplished in his lifetime.

A true inspiration...
RIP Jack

Mark Winchester Sr. said...

It is sad that Lalanne dies. Its even sadder that he chose to swim in cold weather and thusly developed pnuemonia and died from it. No disrespect whatsoever inteded toward Mr Lalanna but it I definitely think had Lalanne stuck to weight lifting he'd be alive today.