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He helped to build Jenny Craig business empire

Times Staff Writer

Sidney Craig, who with his wife Jenny built the Jenny Craig weight loss program into a multimillion-dollar business based on a philosophy of moderation, with small-portioned meals, a balanced diet and regular physical exercise, has died. He was 76.

Craig died July 21 of cancer at his home in Del Mar, said Patti Larchet, chief executive of the company.

At the height of his career, Craig and his wife oversaw more than 650 Jenny Craig centers in the United States, Canada, Australia and New Zealand with about $460 million in annual sales.

Their program followed basic medical advice on diet and exercise, bolstered by weekly meetings at which clients learned about nutrition and fitness. Craig and his wife sold prepared foods under the company label, including small portions of chocolate cake, fettuccine and other foods generally considered taboo.

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They emphasized slow, steady weight loss over fad diets as a better way to keep off weight.

In recent years actress Kirstie Alley, one of Jenny Craig’s celebrity success stories, endorsed the program in advertisements that tracked her progress as she shed more than 50 pounds.

“It was like a reality show,” Larchet said Wednesday. “We followed her journey in our ads.”

Craig and his wife also bred racehorses on their 237-acre ranch in Rancho Santa Fe. Several of their thoroughbreds ran in the Belmont Stakes and the Kentucky Derby. One, Dr. Devious, was a $2.5-million birthday gift to Craig from his wife for his 60th birthday. The horse won the Epsom Derby in Epsom, England in 1993. Another of their horses was Candy Ride, which won the Pacific Classic at Del Mar in 2003 with a $1-million purse.

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Craig and his wife were both sports enthusiasts who held a minority stake in the Phoenix Suns of the National Basketball Assn. and regularly attended games.

His enterprise and her management skills were a potent match.

“Sid . . . has the charisma of a Jack Kennedy, the intelligence of an Alan Greenspan and the humor of a Jackie Mason, along with the good looks of a Clark Gable,” she wrote in her 2004 autobiography, “The Jenny Craig Story.”

Born March 22, 1932, in Vancouver, Canada, Sidney Craig moved to Alhambra with his parents as a boy.

As a student at Cal State Fresno he taught classes at the Arthur Murray Dance Studios and opened five Arthur Murray franchise studios in California.

About 1970 Craig bought a stake in Body Contour, a diet and fitness center, and expanded the business with a site in New Orleans. There he met his future wife.

She became the company’s national director of operations before they married in 1979.

The couple sold their interest in Body Contour in 1982. It had grown to include 200 centers in the U.S. The following year they opened their first Jenny Craig center in Melbourne, Australia, and expanded to the U.S. market in 1985. The company went public in 1991. The Craigs sold their business to Nestle in 2006 for a reported $600 million. At the time of the sale, more than 4 million dieters had signed up for their program, according to the company.

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In recent years Craig and his wife made major contributions to California universities, including $10.5 million to the University of San Diego in 1996 for a new fitness center called the Jenny Craig Pavilion.

The couple also made a major contribution to Cal State Fresno’s business and administration program, which is now called the Sid Craig School of Business.

Craig is survived by his wife, their five children and 13 grandchildren.

Services are private.

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mary.rourke@latimes.com


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