Macfadden's beliefs about diet, exercise similar to our own

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Macfadden's beliefs about diet, exercise similar to our own

Author's note: This is the conclusion of a three-part series on bodybuilder and health advocate Bernarr Macfadden. 

Bernarr Macfadden entered the decade of the 1920s with more than two dozen titles to his name as an author on physical fitness, and he would see more than two dozen more in the next two decades. 

Already respected worldwide as an expert on how to stay fit through both exercise and diet, even though some of his ideas were controversial, many continue to be practiced today. 

"He taught that a diet made up mostly of fresh fruits, vegetables, and whole grains is vital to good health. This was a revolutionary concept at a time when little was known about nutrition," Macfadden biographer Jim Bennett says. "The common thought at the time was that people should eat a lot of calories. Macfadden contradicted the popular beliefs of the time about diet. Today we know that his teachings about diet were amazingly accurate." 

Macfadden also preached about the importance walking every day; of fasting in order to cleanse the body of harmful toxins; and of avoiding white bread, which he called "one of the worst things a person could eat."

At the dawn of the 1930s, Macfadden founded another institution, The Bernarr Macfadden Foundation, whose purpose was to provide funding for health schools and camps. He also founded the Castle Heights Military Academy in Lebanon, Tenn. The academy stayed open for more than 50 years before finally closing in the mid-1980s. 

But, despite his numerous successes in the business realm, Macfadden's marriage to Mary suffered greatly as the 1930s began. Macfadden was out of town on business constantly, and, like the Biblical character Samson, he had a lifelong passion for young women, whom he continued to pursue with zeal. Macfadden and his wife separated in 1932 and were finally legally divorced 14 years later, in 1946. 

Though Macfadden's marriage had dissolved, he remained busier and more active than ever. He bought the Jackson Sanitarium in New York and converted it into a physical culture-themed hotel. The hotel remained open until 1971. 

Macfadden, through his business pursuits, had even amassed an impressive list of celebrity friends and acquaintances, including silent film star Rudolph Valentino, actor Clark Gable, child star Shirley Temple, and the president of the United States himself, Franklin D. Roosevelt. 

As he aged, Macfadden continued to remain as active as possible, organizing initiatives to promote the importance of good health. His health remained robust for the most part -- so much so, that for his 81st birthday, Macfadden parachuted from an airplane over Dansville, New York. He still enjoyed numerous affairs with younger women -- in fact, his last marriage, which lasted only four years, ended due to his continued infidelities. 

In his 80s, Macfadden finally began to show his age and complained of pain in his legs, as well as an overall decline in energy. Too proud to ask for help -- he considered that a weakness -- he lived out the rest of his life in pain but clinging to his advocacy of better living through exercise and diet. 

His finances all but ruined by a series of lawsuits from business deals gone wrong, as well as by two of his ex-wives, Macfadden died (allegedly) penniless on Oct. 12, 1955, of an untreated urinary tract blockage. 

"Bernarr Macfadden was an American original. He was totally a self-made man. He was a genius at carving out his own unique niche," Bennett says in his biography of Macfadden. "He was instrumental in helping Americans emerge from the puritanical mentality of the past, but in many ways, he was out of step with the new society that he had played a part in creating. Some of his ideas about family and business ethics were simply old fashion and insensitive. He was a very complicated and even contradictory man. In the end, he remains an enigma."