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A Tribute to Jack LaLanne from the Family of Rudy Smith

Among the several responses we received in the days after the passing of Jack LaLanne, few were as poignant and as thoroughly well-written as a letter from the family of Rudy Smith.

Like Jack LaLanne, Rudy Smith was a legendary club operator in this industry, and the two were great friends for many years, as were their wives, Elaine LaLanne and Virginia Smith. After Rudy passed away last summer, Elaine shared with us some fond remembrances of both Rudy and Virginia.

The following is a letter that was sent to us from Las Vegas Athletic Clubs and written by Rudy's son, Todd Smith, the chairman and CEO of Las Vegas Athletic Clubs. Aside from minor style editing, here is the letter in its entirety:

We are very saddened by the loss of the greatest person of all-time to grace our industry. There will be many who, through their own pride and arrogance, believe they should be regarded in the same way, but if you look at the nearly 75 years since Jack LaLanne opened the first gym in Oakland in 1936, there is no one that can come close to what he has done for the business of fitness and self-improvement.

Part of Jack's greatness was due to his marriage to Elaine. They were the perfect blend of best friends, partners and everything else that makes a marriage thrive for over half a century. I know if my parents, Rudy and Virginia Smith, were still alive, they would agree.

For over 60 years my parents were very close friends with Jack and Elaine. My mother met Elaine back in the '40s in Minnesota while they were part of the "Follie Dollies" synchronized swimming team. It was also in the '40s when my father met Jack on Venice Beach, where Jack performed his incredible demonstrations of strength and athleticism.

It was Jack who led my father into the fitness industry after my father asked him how he had developed such unbelievable strength and muscle. Jack told him he did so by training with weights. Through kismet, my father and mother met and fell in love in the early '50s while working for Vic Tanny Gyms, so Jack was at least partially responsible for my parents' eternal bond.

Love was not the only thing the LaLannes and Smiths had in common. In the mid-50s my father and Jack were sharing ideas on working out, and Jack described on a napkin one of the first "machines" in our industry. Up until that point, there were mostly just cable rigs, barbells and dumbbells. The only machines in use were jiggle belts and rollers. My father asked Jack if it would be all right to take his idea and work on it. With Jack's permission, my father gave it to one of his friends, equipment builder Paul Martin, to try and engineer the concept. The use of Jack's name would have meant a royalty fee, so the manufacturers named it the "Smith Machine."

Jack's spirit, energy, charisma and enthusiasm were one-of-a-kind. He will truly be missed by a very grateful industry. Jack epitomizes one having a full life and amazing life, and our hearts go out to Elaine and the family. Thank you Jack LaLanne for all that you have done. It is without a doubt that my father and Jack are up there getting a great workout together, catching up on all the good times.

Todd O. Smith, Las Vegas Athletic Clubs

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