Jack LaLanne, “The Godfather of Fitness” who showed millions of Americans the benefits of exercise and healthy eating for three-quarters of a century, has died at the age of 96.

LaLanne, credited with developing the first health club in the United States and the recipient of Club Industry’s Lifetime Achievement Award in 2009, died of respiratory failure due to pneumonia Sunday afternoon at his home in Morro Bay, CA. His wife, Elaine, told Club Industry on Sunday night that her husband of 51 years began to feel ill on Friday.

“I hope that people will always remember his ‘LaLanneisms’ and his many feats,” Elaine said.

Those LaLanneisms include:

“Anything in life is possible if you make it happen.”

“If man makes it, don’t eat it.”

“If it tastes good, spit it out.”

And, perhaps his most memorable saying: “I can’t die. It would ruin my image.”

LaLanne opened the first U.S. health club in 1936 in his hometown of Oakland, CA. Two sets of Jack LaLanne-branded health clubs opened in the 1960s and 1970s on both coasts. The West Coast Jack LaLanne European Health Spas were owned and operated by longtime club operator Ray Wilson. The East Coast Jack LaLanne clubs eventually became Bally Total Fitness clubs.

But LaLanne was most famous for his TV show, “The Jack LaLanne Show,” which aired for the first time in San Francisco in 1951 and was nationally syndicated into the 1980s. LaLanne remained a presence on TV with his many exercise tapes and DVDs. He also was an infomercial star with the Jack LaLanne Power Juicer and wrote several books. His latest book, “Live Young Forever: 12 Steps to Optimum Health, Fitness and Longevity,” was released in 2009.

LaLanne defied his age over the years by performing a number of extraordinary feats that displayed his immense strength and fitness. In 1954, at the age of 40, LaLanne swam the length of the Golden Gate Bridge under water while towing 140 pounds of equipment, including two air tanks. In 1974, at age 60, LaLanne swam handcuffed and shackled from Alcatraz Island to Fisherman’s Wharf while towing a 1,000-pound boat. And in 1984, at age 70, LaLanne towed 70 boats with 70 people a mile and a half in Long Beach (CA) Harbor while handcuffed and shackled.

Shortly after his 95th birthday in 2009, LaLanne had an aortic valve replacement at USC University Hospital in Los Angeles. But LaLanne continued to remain active. Last year, he and Elaine filmed an informercial for their latest Jack LaLanne Power Juicer Express. LaLanne, a longtime advocate of vitamins, also made videos and photos with Swanson Vitamins for a new Jack LaLanne liquid vitamin to be called Vita-Lanne.

In a written statement released shortly after LaLanne’s death on Sunday, Elaine said, “I have not only lost my husband and a great American icon, but the best friend and most loving partner anyone could ever hope for.”

In addition to his wife, LaLanne is survived by a daughter, Yvonne, and two sons, Dan and Jon.

A celebration of LaLanne’s life will be held at 1 p.m. PST on Tuesday, Feb. 1, at the Hall of Liberty, Forest Lawn-Hollywood Hills, in Los Angeles. The memorial will be open to the public. Arnold Schwarzenegger, the former governor of California, is scheduled to speak, among others.

In lieu of flowers, the LaLanne family is asking that donations be sent to either of LaLanne’s two favorite charities:

Operation: Children
8950 W. Olympic Blvd., #377
Beverly Hills, CA 90211-3574

The Jack and Janet LaLanne Scholarship Fund
c/o Hollywood High School
1521 North Highland Ave.
Los Angeles, CA 90028
Attn: Mary Sousani

For more on LaLanne’s passing, read the reaction from the industry and visit Club Industry’s Behind the Scenes blog.