It took me a minute to get around to posting this, but dug out this interview I did with Jack LaLanne in San Luis Obispo at his home in March 2003 for the June 2003 issue of FHM. Jack was rad. Meeting him was a pleasure and an inspiration. He was still a muscle-bound badass when I met him and as he appears to have been until the end of his life.
Before we started our interview, Jack offered me $10,000 if I could perform a single push-up. No sweat, you’re thinking, right? So was I, so I banged out a push-up. Then he showed me what he meant by a push-up. Fully prone lying on the belly with arms extended straight in front of the body, then push up. I gave it a shot. No fucking way. He had a good laugh, inquired about whom I was dating and settled into a recliner to hold court. Had a great sense of humor, sharp, humble, and fully committed to inspiring other human beings to rise to their full potential. Badass. Legend.
Took a quick tour of a building on his property where he had vintage muscle beach photos and all of the exercise equipment he’d invented or conceptualized, including some Gravitron boots for inversions and inverted hanging sit-ups.
Then I drove my Ford Taurus home and had to edit the below down to 1,000 words for publication. I’m running the unedited version here and I am confident I am the only journalist who inquired about LaLanne’s feelings about the Cookie Monster.
FHM Jack LaLanne Q and A June 2003 p 72-73
By Andrew John Ignatius Vontz
NOTE: Barry left me a note to pass on to you that the children used in the shoot were Brigit and Ian Larson (these are his spellings, can’t confirm)
How do you have a better body at 88 than most men do when they’re 19?
Because I work out two hours every day. You don’t have to work out two hours, but I do. I just want to see how long I can keep this up. It’s probably an ego thing. If the average person works out a half hour three or four times a week that’s plenty.
How long do you think you can keep it up?
I never put a limit on anything. I never think about dying. Any stupid ass can die. That’s easy. Living is tough. You’ve gotta work at it. You have to train for life like you train for an athletic event. You’ve gotta eat right, you’ve gotta think right, you’ve gotta discipline yourself. Everything in life comes down to two things. Try and discipline. That’s what most kids don’t have. That’s what they should be taught in school and kindergarten. You can’t give any kids any lickings anymore like when I was a kid. Kids are a runaway bunch.
What was the worst licking you ever got when you were a kid?
I got one every day from the teachers for screwing up in school and then I’d get another beating at home because I screwed up in school.
When you were a kid, what made you decide to get into fitness?
From the time I was four years old, I was a sugaraholic. I had these blinding headaches every day and I had no energy, no vitality, uncontrollable temper, failing grades, and all the kids used to make fun of me because I was so little and I’d try to fight back. You can’t believe it, boy. When I was fifteen years old I attended a health lecture and it turned my life around.
What did you hear at the lecture that made you decide to become superfit?
If somebody saved your life would you be into it? It turned my whole life around. These headaches left, my energy tripled, and I went back into school and knew what the teachers were talking about, made good grades, and became a champion athlete. My whole life just changed from hell to heaven.
It was that simple?
The minute I started exercising and eating natural foods, it was just like that. What makes you what you are? The food you eat. What develops your strength? The exercise you do.
More importantly, how did you decide that a skin tight jump suit would be your uniform?
I wanted something that was attractive and something that was different and something that would show off my physique. What’s the point of having a body if you can’t show it off? It was functional and it became my trademark. I wore the ballet slippers because they were comfortable and functional.
The fabric used in your trademark jump suits hadn’t even been invented back then. What would you wear to work out in?
I wore wool to start out then spandex came around.
Of all your jump suits, which has been your favorite?
You mean the things I wore on my show? I had so many of them. Blue and black and green. . .
Did you have a different one for every day of the week?
Not every day but I would change often.
What’s the best way to pick one that fits yet doesn’t overemphasize personal areas of the physique?
All of my things were made to order. They were tailor made. You have to have it special made for you.
Who made yours?
I don’t have any idea.
Those suckers sure are form fitting. Have you ever accidentally caught a nipple or chest hair in your zipper?
One day I split the seat of my pants so I couldn’t turn around on the show.
A crotch blowout always drives the ladies wild. How did you do it?
I was doing an exercise and that was before spandex came in, it was wool, and the whole thing split out. But nobody knew about it because I covered it up.
Now that’s a true champion. So you work out two hours a day?
Seven days a week even when I’m on the road. Every hotel has a gym and a pool now. I work with the weights at least an hour and then I spend another hour doing my running or treadmill or I do a lot of water exercises. I have big gloves that I use and things for my feet to give resistance. I have a belt and I tie myself in place and I’ll butterfly for half an hour or an hour against an immovable object. That’s tough.
What do people think when they see that?
They think you’re nuts. But I like the results.
How do you manage to have the energy to do that every day?
Energy begets energy. The only way you lose your energy is to quit doing things. That’s why so many people sit around and do nothing and the more you sit around the more lethargic you get and the less energy you have. You build up your strength and your energy, you just keep it going. These muscles, they know nothing.
Mine are stupid, too. Should I send them to boarding school?
My 640 muscles are my slaves. If you have a slave, you feed it right, you treat it right. It works for me. A lot of people say I’m feeling terrible, I have aches and pains and I’m going to take a vacation and I’ll feel better. Well you take all the aches and pains with you don’t you? You can’t leave it at home. The mind and the body are inseparable. The number one thing is exercise. That’s the key, boy.
What makes you miss a day at the gym?
I don’t miss a workout.
When was the last time you missed one?
I don’t even remember. I have a conscience. The only thing Jack LaLanne has going for him is telling the truth. I practice what I preach. If I did something that I didn’t believe, I couldn’t live with myself. That’s why I live what I do and I tell the truth. Besides I have a lousy memory. I’ve got one thing in my mind. I’ve never thought about making money. Ever. I thought about helping somebody, motivating somebody, get them eating right, get them to reduce their weight or increase their energy and change their life around. When I went to the health lecture when I was fifteen, that guy saved my life and that’s why I’m so enthusiastic. Every time when I lecture I’m motivating and stimulating people.
What accomplishment are you proudest of?
My television show was on 34 years. We had some of the highest ratings, millions and millions and millions of people. We got mail by the sacks, Jack you changed my life, I lost weight, I gained weight, I did this, I’m a different person. It makes you feel good. You’re helping people.
A lot of ladies must have been after the golden boy in the jump suit. How did you avoid letting fame go to your head?
I never think about that. What the hell? Anybody that’s conceited, they’re stupid asses. Pardon me. You do your job. There are a hell of a lot of things you can do that I can’t do. There are a lot of things I can do that you can’t do. We’re all different but we’re all the same. This stuff about being a celebrity forces you in the public eye, this is ridiculous. If you do something, if you’re good at your job, if you believe in it, if you’re not lying, you’re not cheating people, that’s what it’s all about. I think about living. I never think about what I used to be. I never look backwards unless somebody asks me. I don’t make the same mistake again, that’s all. If you’ve got 100 units of energy and you spend 90 units of it to think what you used to do and the rest of it thinking about what you’re going to do, you’ve got nothing for now. This is the moment. If you’re not happy now you’re never going to make it. You’ve gotta count your blessings, wake up in the morning, God, I’ve got a body, I’ve got hair, I can see, I’ve got a family, and I live in the greatest country in the world. You’ve gotta work at happiness. Most people don’t do that. Oh, I’m not very smart or I don’t make much money or I don’t have a good education. These are all excuses. That’s why all these people from China and who come over here to the United States and can’t speak English and ten years later they’re millionaires. But we here, oh no, always making excuses.
Why do you think that is?
Because we’re spoiled. You’ve gotta take responsibility for you. Living’s a pain in the butt, boy. Dying’s easy.
Do you work out at the same time every day?
Around 5 in the morning. For about thirty years I worked out at 4 in the morning. Get it out of the way.
What time do you go to bed at?
I never think about it. It all depends on what we’re doing.
Has your dedication to fitness left you with any regrets?
Nothing. If I had it all to do over again, I’d put more energy into it. This is my whole life. I’m helping the most important person on this earth: me. If you can’t take care of you, you’re a failure. If you’re no good for you, you’re no good for your family, your country, your lover. You’re nothing. You can count your blessings and try to improve all the time. Just keep plugging and plugging. You’ve got to work out until the time you leave this earth.
What do you do to cut loose? Juice a new fruit?
We have friends, I like to read, I like television, we like to travel. See, if you’re in good shape you’ll like everything. The thing I don’t like to do is work out. Ask a thousand athletes if they like to train. They hate it. Why do they do it? Results.
Besides being the world’s oldest man who can still do 1,000 pushups, do you hold any records?
A lot of them. One birthday I skied on one ski behind a helicopter to the Farallon islands and back from San Francisco. Another birthday I put handcuffs on and I swam from Alcatraz to San Francisco. No prisoner ever escaped from Alcatraz. Twice I swam the Golden Gate in San Francisco underwater.
Did you see any sharks?
Oh yeah. We had riflemen on each side. Before I did one of my Alcatraz feats, two guys were hit. One guy lost his arm and one guy got his leg all mangled so we had deputy sheriffs on each side with rifles in case a shark came up.
Were you worried about becoming a shark snack?
I never think of those things. I think about what I’m doing. My seventieth birthday, I towed 70 boats with 70 people in the boats and my feet and hands were tied and I swam for an hour and a half in Long Beach.
Did you swim with your head?
That was a tough mother boy. It’s tough. Every feat I’ve ever done no one has ever done before. If I did something easy everyone would be doing it.
What makes you want to perform feats of strength? Great juice?
It’s a challenge. It calls attention to my philosophy. If it doesn’t work for Jack LaLanne it’s not working for you. Every time I did one of those feats, every gym in the United States, their business would increase 20-25 percent. You’ve gotta be an example. It was for publicity too. Why did Jesus perform all of those miracles?
To inspire people?
Absolutely. Because everything is possible and to draw attention to his philosophy. But he had twelve guys helping him. Everything we do in life we can’t do without publicity.
Who do you consider to be your apostles?
All of the thousands of students who followed the Jack LaLanne show. I believed in it. The ratings were up.
It didn’t hurt that your sidekick was Happy the dog though, did it?
When I first started, it was a morning show and the kids controlled it. Now how am I going to horn in there and get the adults? I had this bright idea. I had this white German Sheppard dog and I had him trained. So I would tell the boys and girls, come here, Junior, Mary, Francis, come quick to the television. Jack wants you to do something. I want you to get brother, sister, mother, and father, and get them in front of the television to exercise with Uncle Jack and I’ll have Happy do a special trick for you. The kids would go in and wake the folks and if the parents wouldn’t work out with them, they’d cry.
Did you ever get any angry letters from parents who were made about being woken up?
Yeah. But when your back’s against the wall, things come out of your head. You’re lazy. I’m lazy. We only scratch the surface of what we really have. But when you believe in something and you have to do something, we’re all brilliant. Most people don’t have their backs against the wall. They have everything going for them.
When you opened the first gym in America, what kind of people did it
Well see, I had a gym when I was in high school in my backyard. I had a climbing rope and I had a lot of equipment and the police men and firemen in Berkeley, California couldn’t pass the physical and they came to me and I guaranteed them I could help them to pass the physical. I worked them out in my backyard and practically all of them that came passed the physical. This was high school! I had thirty or forty of my friends—you know what Amway is?
Yeah. It cuts out the middle man.
I had thirty or forty of my buddies selling vitamins, whole wheat bread, health foods and I put them on a commission. In high school.
That’s a little better than a lemonade stand, isn’t it?
In 1936 I opened the first modern health club where I had weight selectors, chrome weights, flowers all over, rugs on the floor, a real fancy gym.
Did people think you were a quack?
The doctors picked it up, oh that Jack LaLanne, he’s a charlatan, he’s a nut, he’s got old people working out with the weights, he’s got women working out with the weights, he’s got kids working out with the weights. The old people will die of heart attacks, the young people won’t get an erection, the athletes will get muscle bound, the women will look like men. That’s what I had to go through, boy. I’m telling you. It was a pistol, boy. People stayed away from me like I had the plague. I’m right in the middle of downtown Oakland, California, $45 a month rent and I couldn’t pay it.
What did you do?
One day a light came on in my head. I put on a tight T-shirt. I was winning physique contests, breaking all kinds of records, I was a champion wrestler, I was captain of the football team at Berkeley. Everybody knew Jack LaLanne, ‘oh that nut, he’s eating funny food, working out with the weights.’ I went to Oakland High, one of the biggest schools around at noon time. They knew I didn’t eat cakes and pie and they’d have a candy bar, ‘here Jack have a bite,’ just making fun of me. I’d pick out the fattest kid I could find, the skinniest kid I could find and I’d go to their homes at night and I’d walk around the block two or three times I was so bashful in those days and finally the dad would come to the door. Usually fathers would brag about their kids, but if he’s a skinny kid they’d say he takes after his mother. If I’d go to fifty homes, I’d sign up fifty kids. I wrote out a contract for them. If the kid’s underweight, I’ll put ten to fifteen pounds of solid muscle on your boy in thirty days, double your money back. Fat kid, I’ll take ten to fifteen pounds off that kid or double your money back. I never gave back a penny, boy. If they missed two workouts I was on the phone. I’d tell them how to cut their hair, tell them you boys aren’t going to be leaders, you’re going to be followers. After about a year I started getting phone calls from parents. I had to have a special gym for the young kids, a special gym for the women, and another for the business men. I’m telling you boy, it just took off. But see, you had to believe. You had to prove yourself. Anything in life is possible. You make it happen. The people that made me popular were my students. They got results. Sure they’re going to go out and brag. One fat kid I took 111 pounds off him in seven months. The word got around.
Do you ever look back on your food recommendations or training techniques and think what the hell was I doing?
I haven’t changed. If man makes it, don’t eat it. I’ve always been against white flower, white sugar products. I always believed in fresh fruits and vegetables, whole foods and brown rice, change your exercise program every thirty days.
What about Twinkies? Are those golden brown delights a perfect food?
Would you get your dog up in the morning, give him a cup of coffee, a cigarette, and a donut? You’d kill the dog! Those Twinkies and all that stuff, it’s ten seconds on the lips, a lifetime on the hips. It destroys the B vitamins which has to do with your sex life and your vitality and energy and your ability to remember things. That’s why there are so many screwed up kids today. Their nervous systems are shot and they’re tired all the time and they’re worried and confused.
Do you ever swap tips with other fitness gurus like Richard Simmons?
He’s a good friend of mine. I wouldn’t go out with him, but he’s a nice guy. He’s helped a hell of a lot of people. He’s got them eating right and exercising. He’s doing a good job. Most of the people come to me for ideas because I’ve been there for a long time and I’m pretty successful.
When you see late night infomercials for miracle workout machines, what do you think?
It makes me sick. They ought to throw those sons of guns in jail, the three minute abs and the butt master. It’s sick. You’ve got 640 muscles in your body, this is nothing. You’ve got to work hard, you’ve got to burn calories. These people use that for a while and Christ they gain weight if anything and they don’t get any results so they quit. It’s really sick, sick, sick boy. I do infomercials. It’s one of the most successful infomercials in the history of television. We’re in every country in the world now, France, Germany, England, China, Canada. I’m helping people.
Do you ever do anything with Deepak?
He’s good but he’s all into the metaphysical. Religion and sex should be done behind closed doors. Like this guy Falwell. I heard him on all these programs, ‘if you don’t believe in Jesus Christ it’s impossible to go to heaven.’ How about the millions and millions of other people? You’ve gotta know there’s a supreme being. Do you think man could ever make anything like the human body? Do you think man could ever make a machine that the more you use it the better it gets? I have a new Corvette and the more I drive that thing the more it wears out. The human body is the opposite. The more you use it, then the body repairs it. Every one of your 80 trillion cells are replaced every six to eight weeks.
70 years after you began your mission, why is America the fattest country in the world?
Look at how many fat kids we have today, more than ever in our history. All this fast food stuff. Do you have any ideas how many calories you get in some of these hamburgers? I feel so sorry for these people.
When you see celebrities like Shaq hawking burgers, how do you feel?
Guys like Tiger Woods, Magic Johnson and all these famous athletes, I applaud them, they’re wonderful. But geez, they sell their souls for a few bucks advertising all these soft drinks and all these terrible foods kids eat. Why don’t these guys have their managers fix them up advertising something beneficial? It’s really sick. If you knew the millions of dollars I’d turned down for the ridiculous things people want me to advertise, you can’t believe it. There’s no quick fix. So many Americans they want to over eat, they want to underexercise and they go to the doctor, please doctor give me a shout for my heart attack or this or that. There’s no way. You’ve got to do it yourself.
When you see Cookie Monster on Sesame Street does it tick you off?
I feel sorry for the poor kids. They’re so put upon. You try to get these kids to cut out all the ice cream and cakes. It takes years off their lives. They’re getting high blood pressure and all of this screwed up stuff when they’re forty. A lot of Americans die at sixty and they bury them at seventy.
Have you ever put all this physical fitness stuff to practical use—like lifting a car to save a baby?
I used to get in a lot of fights, boy. Oh, I knocked a lot of guys out. I never lost a fight. When I got into physical fitness, I had this 49-inch chest, this 28-inch waist. I’d go to bars to pick up girls or something and all these guys gave me a bad time so I’d clock them out. One time at Trader Vic’s I was in there with my brother and a bunch of guys came in from the St. Mary’s basketball team and they started giving me a bad time. One guy said, ‘you don’t look so tough to me you little son of a bitch.’ I said, ‘come on outside.’ That guy came outside, I picked him up and threw him over the hood of an automobile and I had six to eight guys attack me and I knocked every one of them out. An hour or two later when they came to and everything was organized, they all came to me and apologized.
They were probably ready to sign up for the gym. In this issue, we have a feature on the world’s strongest women. What do you think of people who get incredibly muscled up–aren’t they as big a freak as a shut-in who needs a crane to get out of the house?
I think it’s great if they don’t use steroids. A woman cannot look like a man. It’s impossible. It’s all controlled by your hormones. The more you work out, the more masculine you become, the more a woman works out the more feminine she becomes. All this stuff that people are taking today, think of how many have died and ended up in mental institutions and have irreparable damage to their hearts and livers. As long as the emphasis is on winning, people are going to use any method they can to improve their physical ability. But there’s no easy way. They take the easy way out and they pay a price, boy.
But can you be too fit or muscular?
No way. Not if you do it the natural way. Can you oversex?
You’d have to ask my collection of My Little Ponies, but I don’t think so.
That’s right. Let me see, you’re a psychotic. Let me see you get on the floor and do pushups until you die. I bet you can’t even do forty pushups.
I’ll take a pass for right now. What do you think of people like Arnold Schwarzenegger, who promote a healthy lifestyle publicly, but privately did steroids, smoked pot and cigars and such?
You only hear about the negative. There’s a lot of wonderful things happening, but you can never publish that because who will buy it? Arnold is a wonderful friend. I’ve known him since he was nineteen. We had a big pushup and chin contest at muscle beach and I wiped him out. It isn’t what you do once it a while. It’s what you do all the time. He smokes cigars. Who the hell says cigar smoke is going to hurt you if you don’t inhale? Jesus. That’s the whole thing about being in physical condition. If there’s anybody on earth who could get by with doing pot and all that stuff, it’s me. My wife and I eat out practically every night and I always have a glass of wine or so. I’d rather see you have a glass of wine than milk.
Sounds totally hot.
Name me one creature on this earth that uses milk after they’re weaned. Man. It’s the worst. Why do you think there are so many heart attacks? Milk, cream, cheese, butter. All these damn milk advertisements with mustaches and stuff. . .
It’s a little weird.
70% of the people on earth are allergic to milk. Can it be good for you?
Do you have three stomachs like a cow?
I do actually.
You’re drinking milk because you’ve been told to drink it. You’re brainwashed. You’ve gotta use your brain. Would I put water in the tank of my Corvette? Aren’t you a combustion engine? Put the wrong fuel in the gas tank and it’s going to manifest itself in negative things. It has to.
What do you do to fire up a studio audience when you’re filming an
I give them a little pep talk. It’s a personal thing. I’m talking with you at home.
Would you ever drop to the ground and tear off a thousand
I’ve got some fingertip pushups I can show you. That will blow your brains.
Where does your enthusiasm for juicing come from?
I started juicing when I was fifteen. Christ, it was a great big thing, so inefficient, but this juicer of mine, I’m telling you, you can put in a whole apple and a whole pear without cutting it up and you can make two gallons of juice before you have to clean it. You should read the mail we get. People buy it for their wives and their kids and their lovers.
How many glasses of juice do you have a day?
I have about a pint.
Besides hundreds of gallons of piping fresh juice, what’s the most amazing experience your career has allowed you to have?
My wife. No doubt about it. Without her I’m a nothing. She’s the power underneath my muscle. When I started out I was a laughing stock, but then when I met Elaine she went along with me one million percent. She’s my lover, she’s my financier, she’s my confidant, she’s my everything.
What should guys out there be looking for in a relationship?
If you’re not happy in a relationship, get the hell out. You don’t change people. Jack LaLanne doesn’t change, my wife doesn’t change. I am what I am and you are what you are. My wife and I understand each other. She goes along with my idiosyncrasies and I go along with hers. It’s a team effort. You’ve gotta work at it. So many of these young kids, so much of their attraction is the sack. You can’t stay in the sack 24 hours a day. You gotta come up some time and breathe and be able to talk. Living is a pain in the butt. You’ve gotta put out effort and time.
And that applies to the ladies, too. . .
Absolutely. Women are a different breed of cat, boy. Why do you think they live longer?
I’m pretty sure it’s because they suck all of the life out of us.
Women, boy, I’ll tell you, you’ll never get ahead of them.
What feat of strength can we look forward to you performing to mark your 90th birthday?
I’m going to swim from Catalina to Los Angeles underwater. I’ve had it planned for about five years. I’ll change tanks every hour and a half, I’ll feed underwater. I have a health drink with all kinds of proteins and things in it. I’ll be underwater at least twenty-two hours. That’s twenty-six miles.
What do you think about when you’re doing something like that?
I think about getting to the other side. That’s the only thing I ever think about. I think about the goal, getting there.
All of this talk of exercise is making me hungry. Do you ever indulge in a nice bacon burger with ranch dressing and onion rings or a loose meat sandwich?
Never. I’m a disciplinarian, boy. Every once in a while my wife will say, come on Jack, just take a bite.
When’s the last time you just took a bite?
I never have. I quit eating those things when I was fifteen years old. I went strict vegetarian for six years, then I started entering physique contests. I was Mr. America, I won best chest and best back in Mr. America. In those days they thought you had to eat meat so I ate meat. Another time I went six weeks, I had a quart of blood a day. The Watusis in Africa, they’re the most healthy people in Africa, that’s their whole food intake, blood. I felt terrific. I went down to the slaughterhouse, got a quart of blood, they put a coagulant in it. It’s not the most social thing in the world. Then one day I got a little clot because the coagulant didn’t work and that gave me the excuse to stop. You’ve gotta try things, see. How do you know unless you try them? I tried everything, boy. I enjoy eating. I love it. Every bite of food, I say I’m doing something for me, my looks, my longevity, my vitality. You’ve gotta think, what is this doing for you? It’s a sexual experience, eating.
Do you ever enjoy a nice warm cup of blood these days?
Are you kidding me? I eat fish seven days a week, ten raw vegetables every day, five pieces of fresh fruit, and the only grains I eat are whole grains. I take forty or fifty vitamins a day.
Is your pee bright yellow?
Everything’s normal. That works for Jack LaLanne. I’m still here. Anything in life is possible if you make it happen. God helps them that help themselves. I hope the people that read this will do something for the most important person on this earth: you. You’ve gotta do something for you so you can do something for other people. Living’s fun. Work at it.