Fitness legend Jack LaLanne, who spent nearly 80 years helping Americans get in shape, died Sunday at the age of 96. He was a workout pioneer and cultural icon whose brawn and enthusiasm set the bar high for so many television diet-gurus who followed his lead.
"The Godfather of Fitness," as LaLanne was affectionately called, ate well, exercised and made it his personal mission to make sure everyone else did the same.
LaLanne's agent Rick Hersh told the Associated Press that he died Sunday at his Morro Bay home from respiratory failure caused by pneumonia.
Elaine LaLanne, who often appeared on television with her husband, said in a statement that "I have not only lost my husband and a great American icon, but the best friend and most loving partner anyone could ever hope for."
He was best known for his fitness show "The Jack LaLanne Show" which started in 1951 as a local program on San Francisco's ABC Television station and then went nationwide in 1959. He demonstrated exercises that only required a chair and towel — no special equipment. LaLanne greeted his audiences in their living rooms with his trademark uniform, a shiny jumpsuit, on ABC for over 20 years.
"I tell the truth, I practice what I preach. I'm helping people to a better life," LaLanne said.
He launched his first fitness club in Oakland, Calif. in 1936. The club included weight training for women and athletes, notions which were revolutionary because of the belief that weight training made an athlete slow and "muscle bound" and made a woman look masculine. LaLanne also invented many of the machines we still use today.
After LaLanne's death Sunday, Richard Simmons gave him full credit for inspiring his work.
"He could get a crowd going and when we traveled together he was just so much fun to be with him and we had a lot of laughter together," Simmons said.
LaLanne was a world-class salesman -- peddling millions of his "Power Juicers."
He was also an extraordinary showman who regularly took the treacherous swim from Alcatraz to San Francisco's Fisherman's Wharf -- in handcuffs and pulling boats.
"Jack LaLanne was somewhat of a, what I would say a freak in a way beacause of the humanly impossible things he would do," said California Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger, one of the millions of people inspired by LaLanne who became his friend later in life.
"The man is the most energetic person that I've ever met. Now finally, he's resting, and because of all that great work that he's done, he did leave this world a better place, a healthier place," Schwarzenegger added.
Last October, LaLanne paid a visit to ABC's "Good Morning America."
"The only way you hurt the body, don't use it," LaLanne told "GMA." "Inactivity, that is the killer."
Until his death LaLanne worked out every day for two hours. He lifted weights for 90 minutes, then swam for half an hour.
One line LaLanne loved to use was "I can't die, it would ruin my image."
LaLanne is survived by his wife of 51 years, two sons, Dan and Jon, and a daughter, Yvonne.
Simmons said his friend and inspiration is now "up in the fitness studio in the sky."
The Associated Press contributed to this report