Louis Armstrong lived from 1901 to 1971 and during his life he traveled over 300 days a year, which could take its toll on anyone physically. How did Pops do it? Well it was a combination of laxatives, a diet high in meat and rice, and entertaining people across the world on a nightly basis. Louis’ diet is representative of how African Americans had to take care of themselves without help, and the advice his mother gave him as a young boy.
Louis grew up during the early 20th century in New Orleans and during that time segregation was rampant and blacks and whites were often given different levels of medical treatment. Segregation created an unequal system of health care that left many blacks with either no access to a doctor or the doctors that were available didn’t have enough tools to give adequate help. Armstrong wrote in his autobiography Satchmo: My Life in New Orleans about the health philosophy his mother instilled in him, “Always remember when you’re sick nobody ain’t going to give you nothing. So try to stay healthy. Even without money your health is the best thing. I want you to take a physic at least once a week as long as you live.” (pg.16) Louis followed this advice for the rest of his life by watching his weight carefully and later became fond of the laxative Swiss Kriss; given to him by Lucille. Swiss Kriss did not pay Louis to advertise their product, he just loved it and believed everyone should be taking laxatives. He often gave it out to everyone he encountered and added it to a diet regime that he found in Harper’s Bazaar. In his and Lucille’s personal belongings there were a dozen diet and health books, which you can view in the Digital Collections at collections.louisarmstronghouse.org.
Louis’ diet frequently involved his favorite food red beans and rice, which is often made with a lot of fat and salt. Although he loved eating southern food, Louis’ food choices caught up with him. He suffered a heart attack in March 1971 and died of a heart attack in July at the age of 69. His lifespan proves how taking care of yourself can give you the strength and energy to live a long life, regardless of your circumstances.