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Weight Watchers Founder, Who Turned Her Personal Struggle Into an Empire, Dies at 91 The company, inspired by Jean Nidetch's own weight loss struggles, went public in 1968 and was purchased by Heinz for $71 million a decade later.

By Geoff Weiss

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Ninety-one-year-old Jean Nidetch, who spun her personal weight loss journey into the multimillion-dollar Weight Watchers empire, died today in Parkland, Fla.

Having struggled with her weight all her life, Nidetch began attending classes at a New York obesity clinic not far from her native Queens. Weighing in at 214 pounds in her late 30s, Nidetch felt the experience left something to be desired, according to the AP. So she invited some friends over to her apartment to discuss their dietary struggles.

As the weekly meetings grew to comprise dozens of attendees and Nidetch reached her goal weight of 142 pounds the following year, she was eventually persuaded by friends to incorporate Weight Watchers in 1963.

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Today, the company offers meetings (in-person at thousands of franchised locations as well as online) that promote weight loss via a proprietary points system limiting calorie consumption. Weight Watchers, which went public in 1968 and was purchased by Heinz a decade years later for $71 million, also sells packaged foods, exercise equipment, DVDs and cookbooks.

After its sale, Nidetch remained the company's face, having appeared at a massive 10th anniversary celebration at Madison Square Garden hosted by Bob Hope, and also guesting on The Tonight Show with Johnny Carson.

Even in her old age, Nidetch never gained back the weight that had turned her into a multimillionaire -- though it is unclear what exactly happened to the millions she'd made. After retiring to a modest senior community, where she began reincorporating Coca-Cola and Klondike bars back into her diet, Nidetch inexplicably wrote in a 2009 autobiography, "I'm not a millionaire anymore."

Related: The Woman Who Designed the 'Welcome to Fabulous Las Vegas' Sign Has Died

Geoff Weiss

Former Staff Writer

Geoff Weiss is a former staff writer at Entrepreneur.com.

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