I just got through with a podcast called Missing Richard Simmons. If you haven’t heard it, the host is a friend of Simmons, trying to piece together the former fitness personality’s sudden disappearance from the spotlight and reclusion. The podcast essentially turns biographical, as the host digs into Simmons life and the parts of it that may play into his current reclusivity. It’s a good podcast, with perhaps a bit more than you’d would really care to know about Richard Simmons but it’s also short with about 7 episodes, and you can binge listen to it well within the span of a workday.
Although I didn’t keep up with all the news surrounding Simmons dropping out, I did know about the rumors of depression and/or a sex change. I also, purely by chance, caught Simmons live phone call into the Today Show in 2016 informing the world he was ok. To be honest though I did find the mystery and rumors compelling enough to also speculate what happened to drive him into reclusion, especially since I remember how popular he was in the 80’s, and how much my Mom use to like his shows.
Richard Simmons, is one of those pop culture characters that screams 1980’s. He was highly energetic, eccentric, colorful, made his own music videos, and had a talk show, all the qualifications for being an 80’s icon. On top of that he was a staple of 80’s talk and game shows, and was known to drive Johnny Carson and David Letterman nuts with his manic personality. Last but not least of course, to be completely 80’s, he had his own exercise videos on par with Jane Fonda and her very 80’s aerobic videos.
If your like me and grew up in the 80’s, you can pretty much remember seeing Simmons everywhere. My earliest memories of seeing him was on the talk and exercise show he had in the early 80’s. My Mom would often tune in and found his energy and positive attitude motivational enough to get her up and exercising. Of course she wasn’t the only one, Simmons although an unusual character, garnered a lot of positive attention for popularizing healthy living and exercise in an era when it wasn’t emphasized.
Simmons, was a common sight on mainstream TV as well. It wasn’t uncommon for him to pop up in many of those cheesy “celebrities events” of the 80’s. A look through IMDb can show you a lot of his appearances, but I think there might be some appearances missing, that’s how much we’d see him. To say the least, love or hate him, Simmons might pop up on your favorite show.
After the end of his talk show in 1984 Simmons moved on to his next project, following Jane Fonda and other exercise gurus and celebrities into the exercise video craze of the mid to late-80’s. Simmons released his first video Sweatin’ to the Oldies in 1988, but his videos put a unique spin on things. In an era of thin celebrities working out with equally thin models in the background, Simmons background workout group was instead real people, many of whom were considered overweight, and/or past the perceived societally correct age for working out. The video series although pure Richard Simmons 80’s cheese, sought to reach out to and include those who usually weren’t the target audience for workout videos, but the most common users, real people who felt their bodies didn’t match the image health clubs of the time seemed to attract. This was often a group that chose to work out in the non-judgemental privacy of home, and videos where a key to that.
In this Simmons was a vanguard of our current views of the need for regular exercise, and for gym’s that sought to provide a means of physical fitness rather them a semi-private club for athletic types, and bodybuilders. Essentially, it paved the way for physical activity, and obesity awareness for all ages, something we now see being served by judgement free gyms and specialized obesity awareness and daily physical activity programs. These are also things Simmons would go on to be vocal about later.
Besides these videos Simmons wasn’t a stranger to TV in other ways. Simmons regularly appeared in infomercials for some of his other products, the most well known of which was his Deal a Meal cards and books. My mother owned had a set of these she bought of Home Shopping Network during one of Simmons live appearances there. To be honest she never really used it, and I remember packing them off to donate with some cookbooks some years back. Simmons also released exercise (audio) tapes, cookbooks, other gimmicky diet gadgets, some really creepy dolls, and diet snacks, plus a lot of other merchandise well into the mid-90’s. A search on eBay can get you more Richard Simmons merch then you ever dreamed existed. On top of that there was also his “Cruise to Lose” a week long fitness cruise with Simmons himself, which sold out regularly.
Like many other celebrities associated with an era or decade, Simmons popularity declined in the 90’s. Instead of being seen everywhere, his appearances where few and far between, and often in nearly self-mocking roles. Simmons continued to be a paragon of fitness though and still had a strong fanbase, especially among the many he helped. One of his last major appearances was when he appeared before Congress in 2008 to address the “obesity epidemic”, giving a touching a heartfelt speech on childhood obesity.
For the most part though as his celebrity declined Simmons concentrated more on his fitness gym, then cleverly named “Slimmons”, to teach aerobic classes daily. After nearly 40 years though, Simmons just stopped coming one day in 2014, to the dismay of many of the gyms regular patrons. After that Simmons disappeared altogether from the public, and even cut off communication with many long-time friends. Rumors, speculation, and half-truths ran rampant within the year or so following, even prompting a wellness check from the LAPD. In 2016, following the LAPD visit, Simmons called the Today Show, in an attempt to dispel many of the rumors and prove to the public he was still alive. Although Simmons has made no real personal appearances since 2014, per 2018 family and friends confirmed Simmons was healthy and fine, but some rumors and speculation still exists.
In the 2017 the podcast Missing Richard Simmons host Dan Taberski, got in depth with his theory behind Simmons reclusion. Taberski, who must have spent hundreds of hours piecing together Simmons past, interviewing friends of Simmons and his brother, and even traveling to Simmons childhood neighborhood, also had the unique privilege of being a Slimmons gym patron and friend of Simmons. So to say the least Taberski’s theory just may hold some weight. The main gist of his theory is that Taberski believes Richard Simmons may have just retired from being Richard Simmons. The concept is that the face the public knew as Richard Simmons, was more of an alter ego or character, the once aspiring actor played for nearly 40 years. His theory goes on to speculate that Richard Simmons, “the man”, is actually the polar opposite of Richard Simmons “the character” and now chooses a quiet life in seclusion. To me it’s funny to think that Simmons may be partially bald, with flat hair, wearing normal clothing and wondering around LA like a normal regular person, maybe even hitting McDonalds or In n’ Out occasionally, with no one really recognizing him besides a slight resemblance. A funny thought of mine as a period to Taberski’s theory, but perhaps not so far from the truth.
If you asked me to put a list together of the top 100 celebrities I’d like to meet, I can tell you Simmons wouldn’t be on it. But as a child of the 80’s, and the son of a Simmons fan and follower it’s still interesting to be nostalgic about his odd corner of the 80’s. If you remember Simmons and want an interesting podcast to listen too, be sure to check out Missing Richard Simmons, it’s a pretty good little podcast.
Do you remember Richard Simmons? Be sure to share any odd memories of him below.