On January 23, the world lost a hero. At 96 years old, health and fitness guru Jack LaLanne passed away, but not without leaving behind a tremendous legacy. As the “godfather of fitness,” he was instrumental in bringing the importance of health and fitness to the forefront of American society. But that wasn’t always the case.

As a child, LaLanne was much like many young people today. A self-confessed “sugarholic,” he did poorly in school and was frequently reprimanded for unsavory behavior. But at age 15, LaLanne attended a health and nutrition presentation and decided to change his life.

About 7 years later, he opened a fitness facility in Oakland, California, where he designed the world’s first leg extension machine, which is still in use today. He is also credited with developing signature body weight movements like the “jumping jack.” But LaLanne felt his influence was limited, so he turned to television. The Jack LaLanne Show first aired in 1951, to mixed reviews. “Exercise is King, nutrition is Queen; put them together and you’ve got a kingdom,” he’d say.

Many considered him a quack, so he decided to prove the benefits of health and fitness through a variety of feats. In 1954, at the age of 40, he swam the entire length of the Golden Gate Bridge in San Francisco Bay. A year later he set a world record of 1,033 push-ups in 23 minutes. To commemorate his 70th birthday, he towed 70 boats with 70 people 11/2 miles while handcuffed and shackled. The list goes on.

“The fitness industry has lost an incredible role model and inspiration. Jack’s passion for fitness was second to none,” asserts Kathie Davis, IDEA’s executive director. “When Jack accepted the 1986 IDEA Lifetime Achievement Award [see the photo], we were honored to hear him speak about his remarkable journey in the fitness industry. His contributions to the industry will always live on, and he will be greatly missed. Our thoughts and prayers go out to his family.”

It’s safe to say that fitness professionals everywhere owe LaLanne a debt of gratitude.