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The Passing of a Giant

Yesterday I received an e-mail message with the sad news of Jack LaLanne’s passing. Jack was an amazing guy not only because of his many physical accomplishments—most of which will never be equaled—but also because of the strength of his character. The Los Angeles Times called him the "spiritual father of the fitness movement." In fact, Jack was an evangelist for taking care of your body by eating the best diet and doing regular weight workouts, and he was a tireless cheerleader for the possible.

Jack did his "feats" not to prove how great he was but rather to show people that the impossible can be achieved. His was a quiet strength that could be focused like a laser on the goal he set for himself. After one of his famous swims across San Francisco Bay to celebrate his birthday—and to show what is possible—his wife Elaine was asked by a reporter, "You let your husband do these dangerous and crazy things?" Her answer really encapsulated the man: She said, "There is no ‘letting’ involved!"

Like most of you, I knew Jack only from his TV programs of the ’50s, ’60s and ’70s. Then in 2002 IRON MAN presented him with the Peary & Mabel Rader Lifetime Achievement Award and I was invited to the unveiling of his star on the Hollywood Boulevard Walk of Fame. From the moment I met Jack and Elaine, I felt enveloped by their personal warmth. Jack was the rare celebrity who made you feel as if he were honored to be in your presence rather than the other way around. I think that was one of the measures of the man—he truly cared about people and invested his very long life in helping them to be better.

You don’t accomplish what he did without a healthy ego, but Jack’s sense of self was always constructive, and its power was always flexed in ways that created joy. Every conversation I ever had with him (and Elaine) left me feeling pumped up, not because he was flattering me—that was never his style—but because his energy and sheer exuberance filled any room he was in.

When Jack received his award at the ’02 IRON MAN Pro, the crowd of 1,000-plus people rose as one and gave him an enthusiastic and extended ovation. I handed him the award, and I expected him to say thank you. What followed was a speech about the pleasures of the workout and how it had formed the core of his life. The theater was silent—the crowd knew that it was witnessing something special as his emotion-laden speech touched everyone in the room; it still gives me chills thinking about it.

If they know it or not, everyone who works out today is a part of Jack’s legacy. Not many men change the world, but Jack did. Go back and watch some of his early shows on YouTube or DVD, and you’ll see a great communicator who spoke to each of us in what felt like a personal way. Jack, thank you for making the world a better place. IM

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