By Ken Tucker
Updated January 24, 2011 at 03:14 PM EST
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Jack LaLanne, the affably talkative man who helped bring physical-fitness training to TV, has died; he was 96.

LaLanne’s success was due to a number of factors. Facing down skeptics in the 1950s who thought people who watched TV didn’t want to be lectured to about health and would not get up off their sofas to exercise, LaLanne began a series of shows that featured brisk, simple exercises and equally blunt pep talks. Here he is, showing off a little, doing some fingertip push-ups. Note his cool dog.

More significant was LaLanne’s common-sense approach to health and exercise. Long before others made careers selling elaborate exercise equipment or books pushing elaborate diets, LaLanne used what he’d learned as a man once troubled by health problems, chronic back pain, and depression to share his thoughts and plans of action.

LaLanne was built like a flying wedge, with broad shoulders that narrowed at his waist, with strong, arrow-y legs. He spoke with a slight California twang in a voice of boundless optimism, insisting that a positive attitude had as much to do with health as push-ups and washboard abs.

The things that LaLanne said and did may seem commonplace now, but when he came along in the early ’60s, what he did was considered both welcome and radical. The phrase “physical fitness nut” was not uncommon back then, and notions about nutrition collided on TV with commercials urging kids to eat sugary cereals. But LaLanne avoided the crackpot label by living the life he preached; you can’t fake finger-tip push-ups. And if we follow some of his dietary tips today (and he had strong opinions: fresh fruit and vegetables, yes; but buying only “organic food” was a “crap” idea), exercise regularly with some of LaLanne’s souped up calisthenics, and even exercise our smile-muscles, we’d probably feel better.

Thanks, Jack.

Twitter: @kentucker

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