I carry around a list in my head of famous people who have in some way or another been nice to me over the years.
I was reminded of this last night when I learned that a person on the list, fitness guru Jack LaLanne, had just died at the age of 96.
I never actually met Jack LaLanne, and can only remember seeing him on television a handful of times.
Our only encounter came in a letter back in 1993.
During that year I was enrolled in a theology class at a community college. One of our projects was to get a feel for how our fellow students felt about the possibility of an afterlife.
The exercise gave me an idea for a book called After California (which shamefully, I have yet to finish) that chronicles the thoughts of the rich and famous on the possibility of life after death. Soon I was writing every famous person I could track down asking them what they think happens after we die.
I never thought anyone would respond, but one day a letter arrived in my mailbox from television legend Steve Allen. Others began trickling in from the likes of Linda Ronstadt, Herb Caen, Jeffrey Katzenberg, Charles M. Schulz, Dudley Moore, John Landis, Rita Moreno, Wes Craven, Janet Leigh, and Hugh Hefner.
Director Bernardo Bertolucci wrote me from the set of Little Buddha in London. Allen Ginsberg and Matt Groening both sent comics they had drawn. Famous-for-being-famous Angelyne penned her thoughts on the back of a picture of herself in a pink fur bikini. Walter Matthau encapsulated his views on a hilarious post-it note that read, “Dear Sir, I have a limited intellect, therefore I don’t think about weighty subjects! Walter Matthau.”
Jack LaLanne was another person who took the time to write. His letter is dated October 19, 1993, and comes addressed from his post office box in San Luis Obispo. In it he writes:
Dear Mr. Stephens:
In this life my moral sacred obligation is taking care of this God given gift, our mind and our body. I’m going to do the best job possible while I’m here, tell the truth, keep my integrity, love my neighbor, don’t hurt anybody and keep my mind and body fit. If there is an afterlife the great Omnipotent Power that is around us, in us and through us will realize that I did the best that I could and I’ll get another chance at the next expression of my life.
Healthfully yours, Jack LaLanne
From what I have read, he definitely kept his word in this letter, remaining fit and active to the very end.
I have no idea what happens to us after we die, but now Jack LaLanne does.
If it turns out as he suspected that there really is an “Omnipotent Power” out there who has the ability to grant a “next expression” of life, I hope this amazing man who took the time to show an act of kindness to a complete stranger will get his shot.