RIP Jack Lalanne, a man who sold his brand

25 Jan

I remember Jack Lalanne from my childhood as a hyperactive muscleman in a short sleeve belted jumpsuit, urging us to better health from inside the tiny black & white TV in our  family room. My mom liked watching him in the afternoon, though I never remember her ever actually exercising. Now that I think of it, she may have had a little crush on him. And why not? He was a hunk when the word was still synonymous with “chunk.”

Jack took the Charles Atlas don’t-let-them-kick-sand-in-your-face world of body building and turned it into the “fitness” industry, maybe not singlehandedly, but certainly significantly. Through his long running “The Jack Lalanne Show” and small empire of Jack Lalanne’s European Health Spas, his name became synonymous with “fitness.” He was his own best advertisement for the product: a powerful (literally) brand long before people talked much about “brands” the way we do now. Check him out in his heyday:

It’s sad that when he sold his chain of fitness clubs to Bally in the 80s, they chose to rename them Bally Total Fitness. Jack Lalanne went on to write more books and sell a lot of juicers, but his brand was never the same. Maybe Bally did the right thing by “deLalanne-izing” the fitness centers. We’ll never know. He certainly wasn’t very hip anymore. And who knew when he would go the way of Colonel Sanders and kick the bucket (though his bucket would never be filled with deep-fried meat)? But I like to think he could have become as iconic as the Colonel, even though he more closely resembled Tony the Tiger, and could have been a great asset to the business he created, even after death.

Jack was famously quoted as saying: “I can’t die; it will ruin my image.” He was right about a lot, but not about that. He died Sunday at the age of 97, but like many great men and great brands, his image lives on.

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