Natural Foods Merchandiser

Original Nature Boy Gypsy Boots Remembered

Photo courtesy of
The Whole Wheatery

Gypsy Boots, born Robert Bootzin, one of the naturals industry?s first adherents and an unlikely spokesman, died in his Camarillo, Calif., home in August of natural causes. He was somewhere in the neighborhood of 89 years old, though no one knows for sure.

Made famous by the 1948 hit song ?Nature Boy,? sung by Nat King Cole, Boots appeared on You Bet Your Life, Groucho Marx?s radio and television program in the early ?50s. However, Boots made his big splash on the national radar screen in the early ?60s with appearances on the The Steve Allen Show.

According to Dan Bootzin, one of his sons, Boots loved his self-given moniker, The Clown Prince of Health. At health conventions, when it was his turn to speak, Boots ?would come in from the back banging a drum and get everyone doing deep knee bends and deep breathing exercises. ? He liked to make people laugh and to shake it up a bit,? Bootzin said.

Boots attended every Natural Products Expo, and many remember his flamboyant style.

Dan Bootzin, who recalls a childhood eating avocado and sprouts sandwiches before anyone else in Los Angeles had caught on to the health craze, said that Boots was just following a lifestyle, not creating a persona. ?I think it?s kind of crucial that he wasn?t a latecomer to the health food field. He wasn?t somebody who looked at it and said, ?I want to become part of that,?? Bootzin said. ?It was a natural progression of how he lived his life—before there was an organic health food industry.?

Gypsy Boots, top left, lived in caves and trees for a time with a group known as the 'nature boys.' Among them was Eden Ahbez, bottom left, who penned the song 'Nature Boy' for Nat King Cole
Photo courtesy of
Dan Bootzin

In fact, Boots dropped out of high school in the ?40s and wandered California with a group of vagabonds called ?nature boys,? living off the land and sleeping in caves and trees. Author Gordon Kennedy profiled the group in Children of the Sun (Nivaria Press, 1998). ?I think he was a pioneer, but he didn?t really set out to be,? Bootzin said.

Boots, who authored two books, Barefeet and Good Things to Eat and The Gypsy in Me, opened the Health Hut natural foods store in 1958 in Los Angeles, a store frequented by many A-list celebrities. Boots appeared in 1967?s Mondo Hollywood, with Frank Zappa, Ram Dass and Jayne Mansfield, and had a role in The Game with Michael Douglas, who threw Boots an ?89th? birthday party on the Paramount Studios lot.

Boots was a lifelong vegetarian—except for a short stint eating fish—and would change his diet according to what he felt his body needed. ?He wasn?t fanatical,? Bootzin said. ?He had his sort of diet he would eat, but he would change based on what his body needed. ? [Although] he never ate a piece of red meat that I ever saw in my entire life.?

Boots?s mantra was ?positive attitude,? said Bootzin. ?He always said, ?You can eat all the best food in the world, but if you have a negative attitude it?s not going to do you any good.??

Boots is survived by sons, Dan Bootzin of Los Angeles and Alex Bootzin of Pacifica, Calif.; three grandchildren; and a sister.

Natural Foods Merchandiser volume XXV/number 10/p. 24

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