Jack LaLanne is dead. Gone at 96 years of age. A colleague of mine must be right when he observed, “Exercise is overrated.”

Jack LaLanne is dead. Gone at 96 years of age. A colleague of mine must be right when he observed, “Exercise is overrated.”

LaLanne was, of course, the exercise guru for generations of Americans. Long before his juicer years — and by that, I must stress, I mean the nutritional kind — LaLanne was the TV fitness expert who taught housewives how to get fit, eat nutritionally and help their families maintain a healthy lifestyle despite the junk their kids wanted to eat.

He didn’t even need any exercise mats laid out in the sand of a beach with the ocean in the background to attract his viewers.

Pre fad

LaLanne’s exercise show was aired, of course, when there were only a handful of television channels obtainable by the normal television. He had little competition. Since LaLanne was ahead of his time, he had only a local station’s talk show, a cartoon or an “I Love Lucy” rerun as competition.

So, in our house, the television — we had only one, in the living room — broadcasted LaLanne nearly every morning. Ironically, the only way a school-age child in my family would ever know that was to be home sick from school, feeling too weak from some cold or flu to try to exercise his way back to good health.

Oh, on one rainy summer vacation morning, my brothers and I were bored enough to each carry a dining room chair and place it in front of the TV to use it as one of LaLanne’s few pieces of exercise equipment. We quit when we couldn’t keep up with a guy who, at the time, seemed like an old man in his 40s.

But, LaLanne did live to be more than twice that age. Exercise and a sound diet sort of worked for him.

Some of LaLanne’s longevity might have had a little to do with whatever drinks he mixed up with his Power Juicer. I’m not sure it ever did me any good. When you fall asleep with the television on, it almost scares you to death to wake up to see a 90-something Jack LaLanne in an infomercial, smiling and grinding things up about a quarter of an inch away from your big toe.

A disturbing memory

But the most disconcerting LaLanne-related image I carry with me in my mind is walking into the living room and seeing my mom doing jumping jacks in front of the Philco.

She was wearing a jumpsuit, just like LaLanne. And she was leaping and stretching and touching her toes, and contorting herself into all sorts of positions that you don’t expect a mom to be in unless she’s reaching for a can of vegetables at the back of the cupboard.

But, that’s not the worst part. The really worrisome part of the memory was when she sat down on the chair and listened to LaLanne tell her she ought to cut white sugar out of the family’s diet.

Say, what?

Candy, cake, ice cream, cookies and soda pop — do away with all of it, he urged. And mom was listening to him.

Now I know today that LaLanne was right. Limiting our sugar intake is a healthful thing to do. But, at the time I felt like running to the kitchen, grabbing the cookie jar and hiding it in my bedroom as civilization’s last stash of chocolate chip cookies.

Instead, I told mom that my younger brother was bleeding. He so often was that I figured I had a 50-50 chance of not getting into trouble for it.