No body entertains quite like 'Slim'

March 09, 1992|By Nancy Imperiale | Nancy Imperiale,Orlando Sentinel

It's not easy wearing your insides on your outsides.

But for 18 years, mild-mannered John Burstein has slipped his 5-foot-10, 155-or-so-pound frame into a skintight bodysuit with organs, muscles and skeletal structure painted on to become Slim Goodbody.

He doesn't profess to be a man of steel, but after dispensing health tips to millions of children, he bills himself "America's Health Hero."

Recently, the 42-year-old New Yorker pondered his life as Slim Goodbody.

It has meant nearly two decades of exercise and moderate eating. Skintight bodysuits do not accommodate for age, atrophy or all-night benders.

But there have been healthy trade-offs. Slim Goodbody is a million-dollar corporation with six company cars and a staff that can total up to 50 people, including several clone "Slimstitutes." Mr. Burstein has written seven books, recorded five records and reached millions of television viewers on Captain Kangaroo, the Nickelodeon channel and PBS. He has performed in Japan, Korea and every U.S. state.

He's even a Trivial Pursuit question.

It's not exactly how Mr. Burstein envisioned his life -- his dream was to be a Shakespearean actor -- but he knows where his bread is buttered. Make that margarine.

"I get a chance to write music, dance, write books, appear on television and run my own show," he said. "And if a child can walk away from one of my productions feeling good about him or herself, and learning one thing, I'm happy."

Mr. Burstein's alter ego also gets accolades from adults. "He's real well-respected in the fitness world," said Susan Kalish, executive director of the Maryland-based American Running and Fitness Association.

"Slim makes fitness look like fun. I've seen him work crowds, and I'm so impressed with the way he reaches children."

Aimed at elementary-age kids, his show is part vaudeville schtick, part Jesse Jackson rally, part Anatomy 101.

In the bodysuit, straw hat perched on his head, Slim sings, dances and hands out information as diverse as the difference between your cerebrum and your cerebellum, and how many breaths your lungs take in each year.

Much of it is in singsong rhyme -- Mr. Burstein's strategy for making children remember complicated topics. He estimates he has written 1,000 songs for Slim, including such immortal lines as:

Without your skeleton

Your body would be like Jell-O gelatin.

Slim's audience -- he estimates he reaches about 300,000 children a year -- could use the information.

A decade's worth of studies have concluded that U.S. children are generally heavier, more sedentary and less interested in physical activity than ever before. Experts predict many will become adult couch potatoes.

Mr. Burstein said his mission is to instill self-esteem in youngsters. If you can get them to care about themselves, he figures, they'll also take care of themselves.

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