David Rensin, ’20 Questions with Jack Lalanne’, Playboy Magazine (October, 1984).


“When the interview began in La Lanne’s living room at 8:30 A.M., he had already been awake for five hours. He’d exercised, had breakfast and donned a red jump suit.”Most people know La Lanne only from his TV show. It’s the least of his achievements. On each birthday, La Lanne performs a muscle-numbing feat. At 45, he did 1000 push-ups and 1000 chin-ups in an hour and 22 minutes. At 60, he swam from Alcatraz to Fisherman’s Wharf–handcuffed, shackled and towing a 1000-pound boat. At 66, La Lanne swam more than a mile–handcuffed, feet shackled, towing ten boats carrying 77 people. In 48 minutes.”Most of us have trouble just turning on a tape recorder. Happy birthday, Jack.”

Q1 Playboy: What incredible feat are you planning to do to celebrate turning 70?

Jack La Lanne: I’m planning to swim underwater from Catalina Island to Los Angeles. That’s 26 miles. I’ll do it in less than 24 hours. But what I really wanted to do was carry a 350-pound bar bell on my shoulders down Hollywood Boulevard to protest all the male and female prostitution, all the dope and crap. I wanted to show people that there are better things in life, that you can be fit at any age. Can you imagine 350 pounds on your back for half an hour? All your muscles contract simultaneously. That’s plain pain. And I would challenge anyone in the world to do that and give him $10,000 if he did. But I can’t do it now. Some kid hit my new Porsche 924 head on. About $15,000 damage. I had to have surgery on my knee to take cartilage out, and that took care of that. But I got a new Porsche 944 recently. It’s a pistol. I had it up to 130 the other day.

Q2 Playboy: Why do you often handcuff and shackle yourself for your swims?

Lanne: Use it or lose it, I say Because it makes them ten times more difficult. Otherwise, anyone would be doing these things.

Q3 Playboy: What’s your secret? Wheaties?

Lanne: Sometimes I have a Jack La Lanne Diet Shake, a product I’ve had out for about 20 years now. Or one of the five Jack La Lanne breakfast cereals. They’re all natural grains–no white sugar, no white flour, no salt, no fats. I’m more and more into grains these days; also raw fish. I eat sashimi almost every day–though not for breakfast. But mainly, I have about 400 vitamin supplements for breakfast right after I work out.

I put them in a blender and make a high-protein drink. I use a quart of carrot and celery juice, half and half, then put in two heaping tablespoons of wheat germ, two more of nonfat-milk solids, two more of high-strain brewers’ yeast, then a heaping tablespoon of bone meal and a banana. Then I put in 100 liver-yeast tablets, 15,000 milligrams of vitamin C, 2000 units of B, some boron and some zinc; also 75 alfalfa-and-kelp tablets. Then I blend it and drink it. It’s one of the worst-tasting health drinks you could have, but I still drink it, because it’s the perfect breakfast. It’s got about 40 grams of protein, all the B-complex vitamins, everything that’s natural from the carrot and celery juices, the enzymes, the trace elements, calcium and potassium from the bone meal. And it’s very low in calories. After you work out like me, you’re not hungry; you’re thirsty.

Q4 Playboy: What are your workouts like?

Lanne: I believe in vigorous, violent, daily, systematic exercise to the point of muscle failure. I’m usually up each day at 3:30 A.M. I hit the gym at four A.M. I’m out at 6:30 A.M. I do it seven days a week and have ever since I can remember. Sometimes I hit the gym without having gotten any sleep, like when I’ve done a lecture or a seminar. My top priority in life is my workout. Regardless of what happens, I hit that gym. Even when I was in the hospital twice with serious knee operations: Right after I came out of anesthesia, there was a chin bar over my head and dumbbells. I worked out immediately.

It’s very easy to rationalize, however, and say, “What the hell. I didn’t get enough sleep” or “I’m too busy” or “I’ve got this little ache or pain.” That’s all bullcrap. You do it. It’s tough. It’s hard. I’d rather take a beating sometimes than get in that gym every morning. Anyone who gets up that early and says he likes it is a goddamned liar. The only good thing about it is that when I’m finished, I look at myself in the mirror and say, “Jack, you’ve done it again!” I’ve won another battle over myself, and that’s what it’s all about: conquering me. If I didn’t do it, I’d be lying to myself. If I lie to me, I lie to you and wreck everything that Jack La Lanne stands for. If I’m not an example of my philosophy, it sure isn’t going to turn anyone else on. That’s why Jesus made such a big impact. He practiced what he preached. He also did miracles to call attention to his philosophies. That’s why I do incredible things on my birthdays.

Q5 Playboy: Do you consider sex an exercise?

Lanne: Absolutely. What’s more physical? We’re sensuous creatures. Sex is the greatest driving force on this planet. Christ, why are we living if we can’t have a little fun?

Sex is giving, and the more you give, the better lover you are. But if you don’t have it to give, well, that’s why physical fitness is so great. What group of people are the sexiest of all these days? Athletes! They’ve got the health, the energy; they can give of themselves. And if you love sex, you’ve got to have something to give. Look, if you’re sick, are you thinking of sex? That’s what I try to tell the guys. Some have three or four extra inches on their waistline, yet they like to be proud of themselves in the sack. I say, “Look, for every two inches you take off up there, it makes your business down there look an inch longer. Isn’t everything relative? If you have a six-inch tool and a 50-inch waistline, the thing doesn’t look very big, does it?” That’s my incentive.It’s simple: You’ve got to appeal to the pride in people. When a woman is flabby and soft, she’s unattractive. When you married a beautiful girl and all of a sudden you start seeing her tits down to here and her breath stinks and she’s not clean anymore and has no pride in herself, you can’t love her. You may bullshit yourself, but you can’t. Energy makes people beautiful. That’s what charisma is. You don’t want to be close to someone who is dead and crapped out all the time, who’s bitching that it’s a lousy fucking world and “Christ, my ulcers are killing me.” Maybe 50 or 60 percent of all divorces are predicated on someone’s being physically unfit. Who wants to live with negativism? Love goes out the window.

Q6 Playboy: Are all kinds of sex healthy?

Lanne: It’s up to the individual. Sex has to do with imagination, so the sky is the limit. If you’re not doing bodily harm, why shouldn’t you do what turns you on? I’m not a prude who thinks everything should be done the Jack La Lanne way. All I want you to do is follow my method of fitness: Eat properly. Think right. Exercise more. What you do with your new-found energy and vitality is your own business.

Q7 Playboy: Is sex still good at 70?

Lanne: The biggest bunch of bullshit is that it’s not. Use it or lose it, I say. I’ve got friends who are 70, 80, 90, and, Christ, they’re horny bastards. Three or four times a week is nothing to them.

Q8 Playboy: By now, you’ve probably seen all the health-and-fitness videos put out by such people as Jane Fonda, Richard Simmons and Debbie Reynolds. Would you care to offer a quick critique?

Lanne: They’re all about the same; they’re all jumping around. Some of it’s good; some of it’s bad. But 90 percent of the exercises in those things are for your calves. There’s too much stretching for the lower back and calves while ignoring the rest of you. What are they doing for your shoulders, arms, chest, waist?

Now, I’m going to be coming out with ten audio-visual tapes for home consumption. They’ll be good ones. They’ll concentrate on all the problem areas. I’ll do one for kids, one for executives, a motivational tape, one on nutrition.

I’ve just built a television studio in my new home in Morro Bay. I’m going to do a syndicated show from there called Jack La Lanne and Friends. I’ll get celebrities like Bob Hope and Phyllis Diller, big sports celebrities, anyone who’s recognizable. I’ll put people up overnight at my home. I have a maid who will take care of their food and drinks. Then we’ll shoot a show together, a real comprehensive thing. I’ll find out what they’re having for breakfast, lunch and dinner, what their exercise habits are, their sex habits, their hobbies, their problems. And then I’ll give them an exercise for their problem areas and get them right there on the floor exercising with me. And I’ll recommend what foods they should eat: a real in-depth thing.

Q9 Playboy: For most people, food equals pleasure. Yet diet programs usually leave you hungry, and it’s difficult to stick to a diet when you go to a restaurant. What do you eat when you eat out?

Lanne: I’ve never told my stomach I’m a poor man. Lots of my contemporaries go into a restaurant and figure they can cheat just this one time. What the hell, they don’t want to bother anyone. Not me. I call over the chef or the maitre d’. I ask for the right food and he respects me for it. Some people complain about taste. They’ll look at a squid and go, “God!” So they eat chicken. But chickens are some of the world’s filthiest creatures. They eat anything. I lived on a ranch as a kid. When the sheep died, they’d get maggots. We’d throw the carcasses into the chicken yard, and within two hours they’d be down to the bone. The pigs would defecate and the chickens would eat it up! But people love chicken. So the chickens I eat are organically grown with special care. I know the source of everything I eat.

Q10 Playboy: Lots of people work out during the week; then, on weekends, they do drugs, drink wine and indulge in vigorous self-abuse. Are they just fooling themselves? Is there a wine that goes well with wheat germ, so to speak?

Lanne: They’ve earned the right. It’s just like, goddamn, if you write a check for $1000 but have only $500 in the bank, you’re bankrupt. But if you have $5000 in the bank, you can afford it. Who are the greatest dissipaters in the world? Professional athletes. They’re in such good shape that they can drink, they can screw, they can smoke. What you put into life you can take out. Look, you’ve got to have a little fun. We’re living in a promiscuous society now. People want sex; they want drugs; they want lots of things.

I know we all hear that we shouldn’t smoke, shouldn’t drink, but you’ve never heard me say that. I would rather see you drink moderately than not drink at all. Any kind of wine is great. Most restaurants have good food, but the only natural food you’ll get at the whole damn meal is wine. It’s never been cooked, heated or had anything taken away from it. It was picked at maturity and nothing was added. It gives you a nice little euphoria and opens the blood vessels. It adds extra vitamins and minerals. That’s helping yourself and having fun at the same time. Complete abstainers’ life spans are shorter than those of people who indulge moderately. My next-door neighbor just died recently. He was 102. He had two martinis for lunch; later a few more; wine. But he was active. I had a program of exercises for him that he did until damn near two months before he died. Now, I’m definitely not into this heroin or coke or any of that stuff–well, maybe coke; it depends on how you eat and how you exercise. And marijuana–nobody knows too much about it except that it’s definitely not habit-forming, so it would probably be better for someone to have a joint once in a while on the weekends than to drink booze to excess. I mean, you wouldn’t eat 100 apples a day, would you?

Q12 Playboy: You were once a 98-pound weakling. What changed you?

Lanne: I was the weakest-looking kid you ever saw. The kids at school took turns beating me up; even the girls. My parents took me out of school at 14, thinking a rest would improve my health.

Instead, I was considering suicide. I couldn’t stand the humiliation. I used to bang my head against the wall. I got blinding headaches. I couldn’t sleep. I got failing grades and had an uncontrollable temper and even tried to kill my brother. I was a shut-in. I couldn’t hack it anymore.Then my mother heard about this nutrition lecture by Paul Bragg at the Oakland Women’s City Club. We were late getting in and had to sit on the stage. Bragg told the audience, “I don’t care what your age or present physical condition is; if you obey nature’s laws, you can be born again.” I went to his dressing room afterward and we talked until three A.M. about exercise, nutrition, white sugar and white flour; about how he was a vegetarian. I went home that night and prayed–I had to have help, because I couldn’t give up my cakes, pies and ice cream. I was addicted. But I could also begin to envision myself with a terrific physique, going out for sports. So I stuck with it. I was a vegetarian for six years. It took pride and discipline. I’m no genius, but I am a disciplinarian. The guys who are tough survive. It was a religious experience.

Q13 Playboy: What convinced you there was money in the physical-fitness business?

Lanne: I had been winning physique contests and had gotten a reputation as a terrific athlete but also as a nut and a crackpot. People would say, “See that muscle-bound ass?” Then, when I opened my first spa in Oakland, in 1936, the articles started appearing in the paper: “Don’t go to Jack La Lanne’s. You’ll get muscle-bound. You’ll slow down, lose your sex drive, get hemorrhoids, have heart attacks.” The women were warned that they’d look like men. So even though I was paying only $45 a month rent in a great location, I was going broke. Nobody would come to my place.I had to do something. In those days, I was very shy. If I had to give a talk, I’d freeze. But since I had this reputation as a strong man, I decided to go to all the local high schools wearing a tight-fitting T-shirt and walk up to the skinniest kid I could find and introduce myself, despite my fear. I’d ask the kid how he’d like to gain about 40 pounds and go out for football. He’d say, “Sure. I’m damn sick of having everyone beat me up.” So I’d get his name and address. Then I’d pick out the fattest kid, pull in my gut and ask if he’d like to get rid of all that fat. Then I’d get his name and address. At night, I’d go to those kids’ homes. First, I’d walk around the block five or six times to get up the nerve; but finally, I’d push the doorbell and the parents would ask me in.


Usually, fathers like to refer to their sons as chips off the old block. “Hey, isn’t he terrific, Jack? Captain of the basketball team, straight A’s and really makes out with the women.” But what’s a father going to say about an emaciated kid–that he takes after his mother? So if I went to 100 homes, I’d sign up 100 kids.After a few months, you wouldn’t believe the results. Some kids gained 40 or 50 pounds. Then I took 111 pounds off one kid in eight months. He’d even been to the Mayo Clinic. And word got around like wildfire. “There’s Jack La Lanne, the miracle man. He’s taken skinny kids and built them up. He’s taken fat kids, kids on dope, bums, kids who get failing grades and completely changed their lives.” I’d get into these kids personally. I knew when they masturbated and when they had cakes and pies. I’d tell them how to cut their hair and what clothes to wear. I’d make them stay in school and get good grades. They had pride and discipline.Pretty soon, I started getting phone calls from the fathers. “Hey, Jack, this is Dr. Jones. Don’t tell anyone I’ve called, but my kid can do more push-ups and chin-ups than me. He can outrun me. I feel kind of inadequate. I’ve got to keep up with him. Can you take me at five in the morning? Name the price. I don’t care what it costs.” After less than a year, I had to shut down the men’s membership.Then I started getting calls from the wives. “Hey, Jack, don’t tell anyone I’m calling, but my husband finally had to tell me what he was up to. My God, he’s got that old romantic nip back again. He’s got the same measurements as when he was in college. I’ve got to keep this honeymoon going. I’m getting a little matronly. Can you take me at two in the afternoon?” Soon, I shut down the women’s membership. Later, I added a health-food store and a health-food restaurant in the building. I was 30 years ahead of everybody. Truth is stranger than fiction.

Q14 Playboy: How do you react to the notion that gays have ruined health clubs for heterosexuals? At what point does all this physical culture become narcissistic and, to some minds, gay?

Lanne: This is bullshit! I was the first one to start health clubs, right? In 1936. I had guys coming to me who were the pillars of society. Bank presidents, lawyers, judges. I won’t mention any names, but they were all homosexuals. Nobody knew about it but me, because during the first year, I had to massage to stay in business. And these guys used to offer me money, you know, if they could just blow me or have love with me. I’d tell them, “Whatever you want to do is your business. But you could write me a check for $1,000,000 and I would never let a man touch me. This is the way I am.” But I’m a great believer in live and let live. The only thing that gets me is if they try to force themselves on me or if one of these old queens takes 12-, 13-, 14-year-olds, gives them money and forces them to go around with his friends. But Christ, I know guys, shit, they dig women, dogs, cats, anything. But who knows? Read the Bible. Read Socrates and Plato. Christ, this stuff’s been going on forever. But one thing I’ll tell you about the gays: Look at how they dress. Narcissistic? It’s survival. It’s being smart. Look at the animal kingdom. Ever see a dirty dog or cat or monkey or bird? They preen each other. They exercise for themselves. They want to appeal to the opposite sex. Is that narcissistic? No. It’s having pride. Homosexuals love to look good. They’re clean, neat. They’re fastidious, well mannered and well educated. They like aesthetic things. They like good, firm, tight bodies. Health. They want to attract other guys. What’s wrong with that? Why be slobs? You’ve got to be insane to suggest that because someone looks good, he must be gay. That’s envy.

Q15 Playboy: That’s not quite what we were suggesting. However, we should all envy your measurements. What are they?

Lanne: My chest is 47 and a half inches. My waist is 27 and a half. My neck is 17. I never let my waist get bigger. Your waist is your lifeline, and it should never be larger than when you were in your prime. If it is, two things have happened: The muscles have lost their tone and there’s extra fat. Most scales lie. A guy may weigh the same at 30 as at 18, but chances are he’s lost ten pounds in the shoulders and arms and gained ten in fat around the waist.

Q16 Playboy: What do you see when you look in the mirror?

Lanne: I think I look shitty. But I don’t look at myself narcissistically, just constructively. I want to get better. Most of the beautiful men and women I’ve known have inferiority complexes. I’ve never been satisfied with myself, ever. But I feel good about myself, because I’m truthful. I don’t corrupt myself. I put everything about Jack La Lanne right on the table. Jack La Lanne and Jack La Lanne are goddamned good friends. I’m also a perfectionist. I’m very impatient. I’ve got energy and drive and I can’t stand inefficiency in people. And I can’t stand dumb people. When I talk with someone, I always anticipate what he’s going to say. That’s why all the people I associate with have to be smart. Why surround yourself with people who are going to tie you down? I don’t suffer fools. One of my closest friends is Franco Columbo. I have never met a sharper, quicker-wilted, more observant guy. Arnold Schwarzenegger is no dumbbell, either. Steve Garvey and Vince Ferragamo are sharp guys.

Vic Tanny, who copied my original gym in Oakland, has a genius I.Q.

Q17 Playboy: Where do you get your jump suits?

Lanne: I have them made, along with my slacks and shirts. My waist is so small and my chest so large that I have a hell of a time getting clothes.

Q18 Playboy: Who’s the healthiest person you know?

Lanne: Me. Not true. The most outstanding, fit human alive is a guy from San Francisco named Walt Stack. He’s in his 70s now. He does Pikes Peak. He runs marathons. He runs from San Francisco to San Rafael and back every day. That’s about 30 miles. He swims in San Francisco Bay. He works out with weights. He rides a bicycle. Walt was a hod carrier, someone who carries mortar up to bricklayers. He’s a real pistol, boy. He likes to drink and has never taken a vitamin. I really admire him.

Q19 Playboy: Since you’ve made the swim from Alcatraz to San Francisco, do you think Frank Morris, the one convict alleged to have successfully escaped, really made it?

Lanne: Hell, no. If you don’t know the tides, it’s the most treacherous body of water in the world. The tide can get up to seven knots, plus, the water is only 54 degrees. Neither Morris nor the two guys who escaped with him were ever found. Later, the newspapers called me and asked me to simulate the escape. I didn’t even do it handicapped with chains. I just dove off of Alcatraz and it took me half an hour just to break away from the island. And you know I’m a goddamned strong swimmer. After I broke away, I was going six or seven knots. They pulled me up right under the Golden Gate Bridge, going out to sea. Morris didn’t live. The sharks would have gotten him, if nothing else. I’m in top shape, but even knowing about the water and the tides, I couldn’t do it.

Q20 Playboy: How long do you think you’ll live?

Lanne: I really don’t give a damn how long I live, but I want to live while I’m living. I want to be productive. I’ve started a singing career with Connie Haines. We’re planning to go to Las Vegas. It’s a new challenge that helps my memory, my diction and my pride. It makes me grow. Stop growing and you’re in the casket. I’m also aiming to get my golf handicap down to three. I play at four or five now, but I want to enter the U.S. Amateur Championships. I’m also writing six books simultaneously.I think we call our own shots and make our own destiny. Every creature–dog, horse, cat–lives to about six times its age of maturity. Dogs mature at two and live to 12 or 14. Man matures at 25. And some of the Russians and Chinese who are 150 or 160 years old have proved it can be done.

Even the number of people in the United States who have surpassed 100 has increased 400 percent in the past six years. How long will I live? The earth will go first.

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