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Walt Stack, 87; Runner, Beloved S.F. Character

January 22, 1995|BURT A. FOLKART | TIMES STAFF WRITER

Walt Stack, who spent much of his long life shuffling bare-chested across the Golden Gate Bridge as part of an arduous commute that made him one of San Francisco's most beloved characters, has died.

The outspoken fitness guru, Communist and purveyor of profanity was 87 when he died in a San Francisco nursing home Wednesday, family members said Friday.

Stack's daily regimen until his health began to fail involved putting on a bright red cap, riding his bicycle six miles from his home to the bridge, stripping to his shorts, running across the bridge and back, and then swimming in the often frigid bay for 30 minutes.

If he missed an occasional day, it probably was because he was out of the city running in marathons.

When the self-described "crusty, hard-line Commie" celebrated his 75th birthday in October, 1982, then San Francisco Mayor Dianne Feinstein declared it "Walt Stack Day" and 3,000 runners crossed the bridge with him.

He then went into the record books for crossing the bridge more times than anyone in its history.

By the time he was 80, Stack figured that he had put in 62,000 miles--2 1/2 times around the Earth and enough to wear out 35 pairs of running shoes per year.

His fame spread nationwide after appearances on "The Tonight Show With Johnny Carson" (where much of his repartee was bleeped because of his foul language) and his role in an award-winning commercial for Nike running shoes.

The onetime merchant seaman whose politics brought a Coast Guard investigation and banishment from American-flag ships, also was a founder and former head of the 2,000-member Dolphin Southend Runners, one of the nation's largest running clubs. And he was featured in two books: "Over the Hill" and "Growing Old Is Not for Sissies."

Stack also was noted for a dry wit and sense of timing.

He liked to tell interviewers that he frequently was asked what he did when his teeth began to chatter in the cold air and chilly waters that dogged his exercise routines.

Pausing for effect, he would reply:

"I leave them in my locker."

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