Word of his success spread, and business was good enough for him to open other gyms. In 1952, he went on TV, but because he could only afford time in the early mornings, he found his audience was mostly young children. So he got a dog — Happy — to appeal to the kids, who were encouraged to go wake up their mommies for a workout. The show was eventually syndicated nationwide and ran for 34 years.
LaLanne's business interests would grow to include a string of gyms across the United States, workout devices like the "Glamour Stretcher" and "JLL Stepper," vitamins, supplements and several books.
By the time LaLanne was in his late 80s, however, the business consisted mostly of juicers that he advertised on infomercials and his lectures.
LaLanne also knew when to back off. An interviewer described him as "intensely unfussy for being such a fanatic." And LaLanne once said that one of his best friends was a man who "weighs about 300 pounds, drinks a quart of booze a day and smokes like a fiend. I'll light someone's cigarette for them. This bull about changing people — you never change people! Accept 'em, accept 'em, accept 'em!"
For himself, he seemed to live by a there-but-for-the-grace-of-God-go-I philosophy that required him to be hyper-vigilant.
"With my personality," he said, "I could be a runaway, out with a different woman every night, drunk every night, eating and doing things that — well, you know, you've got it in you, we've all got it in us. But that's why you've got to take control!"
He had his pleasures — beautiful cars, singing, fine wine and a long and happy marriage that he said was passionate after many decades.
He felt proud every time he fulfilled his promise to himself to never eat between meals or eat sweets. While he was the first to agree that his liquid meals — the least repulsive breakfast was carrot juice, celery juice, some fruit, egg whites and soybean — tasted pretty awful, he didn't mind. And of his two-hour daily workouts at his home gym, which he called his "cathedral," he said: "I want to see how long I can keep this up. It's kind of a macho thing, using me as an example."
LaLanne retained a high level of energy well into what, for the rest of us, would be dotage. But his feats tapered off after his 70th birthday. Although he talked of swimming underwater to Catalina Island for his 80th birthday, his wife threatened to divorce him if he did. "Let him rest on his laurels," she said. He vowed to do the swim for his 90th birthday in 2004, but when the birthday rolled around, he told the San Jose Mercury News that he planned only to "tow my wife across the bathtub." His plans for his 100th were even tamer: "I'd like to have the biggest group I've ever had watching me and lecture to them."
LaLanne was given a star on Hollywood's Walk of Fame in 2002, long after he had attained the respect he long craved. But his biggest thrill was to see that what he had been preaching and advocating for more than 50 years was being taken seriously.
"Back then I was a crackpot; today, I am an authority," he said in 1998.
Besides his wife, LaLanne is survived by Elaine's son, Dan Doyle, of Los Angeles; LaLanne's daughter by his first marriage, Yvonne, a chiropractor, of Walnut Creek; and the couple's son, Jon, of Kauai, Hawaii.
Luther is a former Times staff writer.