At the 2023 IDEA World Convention, renowned fitness personality Donna Richardson received the Jack LaLanne Lifetime Achievement Award, recognizing her contributions and efforts. Presenting the award was LaLanne’s widow and “The First Lady of Fitness,” Elaine. During the ceremony, she also danced onstage and offered to do 20 Ab Jack Knives right there and then.
She’s 97 years old.
“I’ve got a great core,” she said with a smile. Those of you that are over 40 and remember how both Jack and “LaLa” captivated the world with their feats and challenges are nodding your heads in approval but wouldn’t expect anything less. Younger readers on the other hand may not be as aware of this couple, but you should be. That is Elaine’s next major goal in a life that has seen her accomplish many incredible goals. She wants to share the legacy of her husband with the world, and the Lifetime Achievement Award is one step in that process.
“Jack LaLanne was a dynamo in everything in pursued.”
Jack LaLanne was born in 1914, and he once admitted that he was addicted to sugar and junk food as a kid while growing up on his grandfather’s sheep ranch in Bakersfield, CA. After relocating to Berkeley, California during his teenage years, he became so ill he had to drop out of school for six months. Once he got healthy and read “Grey’s Anatomy,” he felt as if he was “born again” and committed to eating healthier and exercising on a regular basis. That decision would affect the rest of his life and change the world in many ways.
“Jack was someone that believed from the bottom of his athletic heart that he could help people help themselves,” Elaine said. “He was a believer and a visionary.”
From the time he felt his new lease on life until the end of that life in 2011 at the age of 96, LaLanne had been a crucial part of the fitness industry as we know it today. If you train in a commercial gym, use a juicer machine, perform leg extensions, follow or compete in bodybuilding, or see anything fitness related on television, you owe Jack LaLanne a word of thanks. While sharing that appreciation, you should also tip your hat to Elaine as well, because she is a big reason behind Jack’s success, and that isn’t only as a supportive partner. That statement can be traced back to before they became a couple.
In 1949, when television was first impacting the nation, Elaine worked for ABC affiliate KGO-TV in San Francisco on the Les Malloy Show. Malloy had hired Elaine as both a co-host and booker based on her previous work in radio.
“He said that it would be a dollar and a half a day, and I would be on the show with him. He wanted me to get all the guests.”
Elaine Lalanne Remembers the Early Days of Fitness
She admitted that she went into the position not knowing what to do, but she was making it work. She also helped with other shows. In 1951, Jack had been trying to get his message out to the masses but had yet to make it on television, which he believed to be the most effective route in accomplishing his mission. Elaine said she got a call from a guy who claimed he could do pushups for the entire length of a local television show.
“So that was what we did. Jack came over, and the cameras would pan over to him, and he did pushups for the entire show. He just did the pushups. We did talk to him for around a minute at the end.”
From there, Jack would be featured on “You Asked for It,” a nationwide show, where he performed 1,033 pushups in 23 minutes. He would eventually start “The Jack LaLanne Show” on that same network in 1951. It would be picked up for national syndication in 1959, and it would go on to be the longest running exercise program in history, concluding in 1985.
Jack and Elaine LaLanne Worked to Keep Millions Healthy and In Shape
Generations of people would be inspired and entertained by Jack’s episodes, and they would continue to be thanks to several feats that he would perform on his birthday every year. For his 40th birthday, he swam the entire 1.7-mile length of the Golden Gate in San Francisco, under water, with 140 pounds of air tanks and other equipment strapped to his body; a world record that has yet to be matched. He enjoyed his 45th birthday by doing 1,000 pushups and 1,000 chin-ups in one hour, 22 minutes to promote the national syndication of his show. The older he got, the crazier the challenges would get. On his 70th birthday in 1984, he towed 70 rowboats, each with a person on it, one mile from Queen’s Way
Bridge in the Long Beach Harbor to the “Queen Mary” ocean liner. If social media had been around during Jack’s time, he’d been trending constantly. He would take on different roles and play a positive force on fitness throughout the decades, but there was always one constant, Elaine was always right by his side. They didn’t become a couple immediately upon meeting, and Elaine confessed she wasn’t as focused on wellness as he was when they first met.
“I’d come in every morning with my cigarette and chocolate donut. Sometimes I would have a bear claw, and I would pass his desk. He would say to me, ‘you should be eating apples, bananas, and oranges.’ One day, he brought over pictures of pink lungs and black lungs with holes in them.I quit smoking right there and then. I changed how I made food. He really changed my life, even then.”
Keeping His Legacy Alive Forever
Jack eventually convinced Elaine to go out with him in 1953, and the rest is history. While he may have been known for his body and physical accomplishments, Elaine said that wasn’t what she fell in love with him for.
“I didn’t fall in love with his body. I fell in love with his mind,” she said with a smile. Elaine would go on to be the co-pilot for many endeavors that Jack took on. To document all the contributions that LaLanne has made to the fitness industry as we know it today, it would take a movie and a book. Elaine is hoping to see both happen. There are early talks about a movie based on Jack’s life with Mark Wahlberg playing the title role.
As for the latter, Elaine and Greg Justice have co-authored a book based on Jack’s incredible life. “Pride and Discipline, the Legacy of Jack LaLanne in His Own World and the Words of Those He Inspired” shares his story, feats, and wisdom so future generations can learn what he taught previous generations. Former Mr. Universe and star of The Incredible Hulk, Lou Ferrigno even wrote the foreward for this. Elaine is proud of this project because of who it pays tribute to and those that were able to contribute to it.
“I just want to see Jack get his due.”
The book is available now on Amazon.