Although Jack LaLanne is 93 years old, he still reigns supreme as America’s number one physical fitness expert and guru. But as a youngster growing up in the San Francisco Bay Area, he was a self-described “sugarholic” and “junk food junkie.”
That diet, he says, “made me weak and it made me mean.” LaLanne’s anger would have made him a prime candidate to become a boxer. Instead, while still a teenager, fate brought him to a speaking engagement by pioneer nutritionist Paul Bragg at the Oakland City Women’s Club.
LaLanne immediately realized he was addicted to sugar. He gave up the poison powder and discovered weight training at the Berkeley YMCA. After absorbing everything he could read on the human body and healthful living, LaLanne opened his first gym in Oakland in 1936. He gradually evolved into the universally regarded “Godfather of Fitness.”
Not surprisingly, LaLanne is a maniacal boxing fan. He always has been, and always will be.
“I love boxing,” said LaLanne, who was in New York on March 21 to promote his new book, “Fiscal Fitness: 8 Steps to Wealth & Health from America’s Leaders of Fitness and Finance,” which he co-authored with Matthew J. Rettick.
The book, which was published this month by Career Press, is available in all bookstores or online at Amazon.com and BarnesandNoble.com.
“There is nothing more exciting than a good fight,” said LaLanne, who was once approached by trainer Angelo Dundee to help fine-tune the conditioning regimen of a young Cassius Clay, who later became Muhammad Ali. Unfortunately, scheduling conflicts resulted in that union never happening.
“I enjoy the men’s fights as well as the women’s fights as long as the fighters are in good condition,” continued LaLanne. “Most boxers are always in good condition.”
LaLanne’s favorite fights of all time were the two matches featuring Gene Tunney and Jack Dempsey. Although he was not present for either of them live, he still sounds excited when he talks about them.
More than any other fighter in history, LaLanne admired Tunney as both a boxer and a person. “I just liked the way he came across, inside and outside of the ring,” he said.
Asked if the fact that, like him, Tunney was light years ahead of the curve when it came to health and nutrition, LaLanne was circumspect.
”He was just a great human being,” he said. “And a thinking fighter.”
He also had great fondness for Max Baer, another heavyweight champion who he considered a good friend.
“The last time I saw him, we were walking on Hollywood Boulevard,” said LaLanne. “He ran across the street and said, ‘Hey, Little Jack.’ He was so damned loaded, he could hardly talk. He was gassed, but he really loved people and people loved him.”
Jack LaLanne and Elaine, his equally eternally youthful wife of 53 years, were asked if they saw the film “Cinderella Man.” In the movie, Baer was not presented in a very positive light. Neither had seen the film, but agreed that the fun-loving Baer was a consummate gentleman and sportsman who never had a bad word for anyone.
“That can’t be true,” proclaimed Elaine when told that the movie portrayed Baer as a bit of a lout. “He was such a great guy, just a lovable man. He always told me, ‘Elaine, you and me should have a show called ‘The Fighter and the Lady.’”
Jack LaLanne was also a big fan of undefeated heavyweight champion Rocky Marciano, mainly for the diligence he put forth in training and the dignity in which he held the title.
“You never heard any negative things about him,” said LaLanne. “I loved the way he trained and never gave up.”
Another personal favorite from the old days was a California middleweight named Al Manfredo, who between 1932 and 1940 compiled a record of 65-23-7 (20 KOs) against such Hall of Fame fighters as Henry Armstrong, Barney Ross, Fritzie Zivic and Ceferino Garcia.
“He was a great friend of ours, but he wound up not being able to recognize anyone,” said Jack. “Before that, he was very sharp.”
Asked if the brain damage incurred by Manfredo made him at all ambivalent about boxing, LaLanne emphatically said no.
“It’s part of the game,” he said. “Football players get injuries and boxers take blows to the head. The more you prepare, the better luck you will have that it won’t happen.”
Of today’s fighters, LaLanne is a big fan of the Oscar De La Hoya. He said the Golden Boy displays “a lot of class” and thinks “boxing could benefit from having more fighters like him.”
When asked about Floyd Mayweather Jr., who many people consider the best fighter of the era, LaLanne is quick to agree that the Money Man’s sterling record speaks for itself. He also defends Mayweather’s sometimes boorish behavior outside of the ring.
“What he does in his personal life is his business,” he said. “As a boxer, he shouldn’t be judged by that. We should only judge him as a boxer.”
It is no surprise that even at his advanced age LaLanne is still quite the physical specimen. Besides working out for at least 1 1⁄2 hours each morning, he is a strict vegetarian, drinks plenty of water, and eats an abundance of fruits and vegetables that are often liquefied in the juicing machines that he’s been endorsing for so long. His standard breakfast is either whole grain oatmeal or 4 hardboiled eggs without the yokes.
“Physical fitness is just like fiscal fitness,” he said. “It’s up to you. What you do to yourself or do for yourself is the key to good physical health and financial well being.
“People talk about the good old days,” he added. “But the good old days are now. Start living and stop dying. It’s all up to you.”
Asked if he had any advice for fence-sitting dieters, LaLanne made it clear that eating the right food is crucial to good health. He half-jokingly explained that there are no shortcuts when it comes to food intake.
“If it’s man-made, don’t eat it,” he quipped. “And if it tastes good, spit it out.”
For more on LaLanne’s new book log onto: www. MattandJack.com or www.ConvenantResource.com