Jack LaLanne

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DIED

When I was a teenager, Jack LaLanne was not my favorite person. Because back then, he was everything I wasn't. He was fit, and he was very outspoken. My mother, who watched him on television, would send for his products--like the exercise bands he used ahead of anyone else. Every time she mentioned his name, all I wanted to do was eat, because I didn't look good in clothes and I wasn't fit in any way.

We both faced adversities in our younger years: Jack, who died Jan. 23 at 96, had some serious problems as a youth, and I was obese. We ended up doing the same thing, which was inspiring people and trying to get people fit.

When I got The Richards Simmons Show in 1980, they asked me who I wanted on, and I said Jack. He was a pioneer; he really started it all. He opened up exercise studios long before the rest of us. When he said he was going to do my show, I was thrilled to no end. It meant a lot to have Jack LaLanne's seal of approval.

Though he had this muscular body, he didn't really flaunt it. He wore these cute little blue jogging suits, and one time I had one made, and we just stood there side by side with jogging suits on. Jack had the most amazing sense of humor, and he never talked down to people; he always gave hope. He influenced me to do the same during my whole career.

I first met him when I was working as a waiter, and he and his wife Elaine came into my restaurant. I saw that he ate like he said he ate. That's why God kept him on this earth for so long. He really walked the walk. This man exercised every single day; he swam all the time; he lifted weights all the time. He would say, "Feel this!" and he would bring that massive bicep up. And I would say, "I just always want to be like you, Jack."

Simmons, whose books include the best-selling Never Say Diet, opened the Slimmons Studio in 1974