Fitness Pioneer Jimmie Payne Dies at 85


Jimmie Payne, a former Mr. America and a longtime contemporary and friend of Jack LaLanne’s who also operated gyms and designed equipment, died Friday. He was 85.

Payne had been on regular dialysis after he suffered renal failure about five years ago, and he was undergoing dialysis treatment when his heart failed on Friday, according to the Santa Rosa (CA) Press Democrat. He was still doing light workouts two or three times a week at Healdsburg (CA) Community Health and Fitness, the gym and racquetball facility he once owned, until an infection hospitalized him for several days three weeks ago, the newspaper reported.

“Jack loved Jimmie like a father and son,” Elaine LaLanne, Jack’s widow, told Club Industry today. “They were very, very close. Jimmie spoke at Jack’s memorial. He was such a sweetheart. There was not a bad bone in Jimmie’s body. Jack was so proud of him.”

Payne met LaLanne, 12 years his senior, as a kid in northern California, and LaLanne served as his inspiration. The two put on bodybuilding and hand-balancing shows together at fairs, high schools, churches—even at prisons. Payne used to tell the story that in one of the hand-balancing acts that they did, they missed a trick, but nobody in the audience left. The reason? They were in San Quentin, the state prison in California.

“He was kind of my idol,” Payne said of LaLanne in a 2009 interview with Club Industry. “Jack was amazing. He had one of the great beach bodies of anybody. He had a body you stopped to look at.”

Payne, at 5-foot-6 and 150 pounds in his prime, was named Mr. America in 1950 by the International Federation of Body Builders. Payne also won four world wristwrestling championships, which were nationally televised, the Press Democrat reported. Like LaLanne, Payne hosted an exercise TV show. Payne’s show, “Junior Mr. & Miss America Club,” featured his two older children and aired in the Bay Area every Saturday in the late 1950s, according to the report.

Payne’s death comes a little more than a year after LaLanne passed away at the age of 96 and a few months after the fitness industry lost another icon, Bob Delmonteque, who died last November at the age of 85.

A celebration of Payne’s life will be held at 1 p.m. on March 11 at the Friedman Center in Santa Rosa, CA, the newspaper reported. Payne’s family suggested that in lieu of flowers or donations, mourners “buy a gym membership and use it,” according to the report.

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