Richard Simmons is an aging fitness personality who became famous for not only his fitness programs and videos, but also for his flamboyant personality and fashion sense. He rose to fame with his own show The Richard Simmons Show which focused on overweight people; Richard uses his over the top cheer and personality and motivates them to lose weight using outrageous dance styles. Over time Richard formed relationships with other celebrities and made himself a permanent part of the B-list celebrity circuit in Hollywood. With the podcast Missing Richard Simmons just concluding, people are fascinated to know all about this curious man.
Simmons was born as Milton Teagle Simmons to his parents, Shirley May and Leonard Douglas Simmons. Both his parents were in show business, so it runs in his blood. Richard grew up as an obese youngster and was deeply affected by the experiences he had at that time. “My father offered me a dollar for every pound I would lose as a kid,” Simmons told Men’s Health. “It didn’t work. And it doesn’t really work in the long run. Who are you competing against? It’s you. You need to be doing this for you and only you.”
Simmons was 200 pounds by the 8th grade. “I was completely obsessed with food,” he said. “I began reading cookbooks when I was six because my father had hundreds of cookbooks in the kitchen. I was obsessed with cooking and tasting different recipes. I got lost in being a compulsive eater.”
Young Richard Has Enough
When Richard was in his early twenties, he had an experience that changed his life. “There was a nurse when I got down to my very, very lowest point,” Simmons recalls. “And she’s the one who asked me that scary question that every overweight person needs to hear. ‘Do you want to live or do you want to die?’”
Unfortunately, Simmons took harmful, drastic measures to try to reduce his weight. He began throwing up and taking multiple, daily laxatives. He was, “bulimic, anorexic, you name it. And after all the throwing up, I would starve myself. Which meant eating lettuce and water for two and a half months. I almost lost my life. I seriously almost lost my life.”
The unhealthy behaviors of binging, purging, anorexia and pills caused Simmon’s hair to fall out. He decided enough was enough, and he began focusing on shedding weight in a healthy way. He felt angry with fad diets and other plans that just added fuel to people’s desperation and self-loathing and wanted people struggling with weight to have somewhere supportive to go to workout and be healthy.
Simmons started his own gym designed especially for obese people, called Slimmons in Beverly Hills. Simmons was also running a salad bar called Ruffage (get it? roughage?), which was attached to the gym. After a while, the gym became so successful that Simmons let go of the restaurant and focused solely on Slimmons, which made his name.
Slimmons, Simmons says, was an overnight success. “I never spent any money on any kind of advertising. It was all word of mouth. People would come in and then tell their friends, “You’ve got to go see this guy. He’s so hysterical.” They’d bring their sister, and then their sister would bring their mother. It became a family thing. And that’s still what it’s like.”Soon, he started attracting media coverage for his exercise programs.
Simmons began becoming a known personality. The television show Real People profiled him at work. His studio, (originally called The Anatomy Asylum was later renamed Slimmons) was more and more popular. He frequently appeared (as himself) in the pop culture hit soap opera General Hospital (seen in photo) over a period of four years. He also made guest appearances on celebrity game shows such as Body Language, Super Password, and Lose or Draw.
The Richard Simmons Show
In the eighties, Richard Simmons hit his height of fame with his own show, The Richard Simmons Show. The show ran for five years, with Simmons giving lifestyle advice on dieting, nutrition, and fitness and interviewing interesting people and celebrities. The show won an Emmy for Outstanding Daytime Talk Show.
Simmons also did Here’s Richard, which was a night-time variety-type show. And then Simmons did the show Slim Cooking, which gave tips on preparing low-calorie recipes, assisted by guests and audience members. Simmons also did an amazing thirty-one infomercials for various foods and gadgets associated with health, nutrition, fitness, and the Simmons brand.
Those Dolphin Shorts
Along the way, Richard Simmons became inexorably linked to a huge eighties fashion fad: dolphin shorts. The short-shorts were made of lycra or light cotton with a tight elastic waistband and had a v-shaped cutout on either side of the thigh.
The shorts came in a wide variety of patterns and colors, and Richard Simmons seemingly wore them all. He was known for his outfits that were all based around short Dolphin shorts in stars and stripes and bold colors, his wild, curly hair that stood off his head, tennis shoes and socks, and a sleeveless t-shirt. Buzzfeed even did a tribute to Richard Simmon’s dolphin shorts!
Sweatin’ to the Oldies
The Complete Collection of Sweatin’ to the Oldies includes four of Richard Simmons’ original Sweatin’ to the Oldies workouts on DVD plus Richard’s brand new show, Love Yourself and Win. These are exercise workouts that became insanely popular with all sizes and ages and cemented Simmon’s fame.
The workouts were set to old-time classics. The set contains forty-one exercise routines set to forty-one rock ‘n’ roll classics like “It’s My Party,” “Big Girls Don’t Cry,” “Gimme Some Lovin’,” “Oh, Pretty Woman,” and more. The 20th Anniversary edition includes two hours of bonus material featuring an interview with Richard and amazing success stories from his students.
In 2016, the iconic Slimmons workout gym, based in Los Angeles, California, closed its doors a final time. Simmons had not taught at the gym for two years and felt it was time to bring the place to its end. Simmons wrote on his Facebook account, “I have never been very good with beginnings and endings. I cannot bear to be sad today. And you shouldn’t be sad either. This should be a celebration of our forty-plus years together dancin’ and sweatin.’”
The Washington Post wrote, “Nearly 60 people, ages 25 to 94, attended the final class at Slimmons on Saturday — some traveling from as far as Toronto and San Francisco to be a part of the studio’s swan song, which concluded with a brief stretch to the Rascal Flatts song ‘My Wish.'”
The Obsessed Fans
There are Richard Simmons Halloween costumes (as you see, adorably, above) for babies and for adults, Richard Simmons fan clubs, and Richard Simmons workouts still being done. His fan base grew and he became somewhat of a cult figure, with a large and fervent fan base that adore not only the products Simmons creates but the persona of the man himself: silly, charming, deeply sympathetic, empathetic, loving, and strange.
“I give people permission to be kids again,” Simmons told Men’s Health. “I’ve never swayed from who I am. People have seen me on television all these years, and they know what I’m like and they know what I do and they respect me for what I do. They know that I’m huggy and kissy. I always tell people, ‘If you let me hug you, you’ll lose two pounds with every hug.’ Once they hear that, they want to stay overnight!”
Simmons on Letterman
Richard Simmons was on Dave Letterman’s talk show Late Night With Dave Letterman, repeatedly. The two had wonderful chemistry on screen and the audience loved the ridiculousness and the laughs. But Simmons says that despite appearances, Dave Letterman was a stoic, uncommunicative host who refused to talk or interact at all between takes, and who didn’t like Simmons.
“The last time I was on, we went to commercial and I was like, ‘I’d love to meet your wife!’ He was like, ‘You never will.’ And then I was like, ‘And see your son!’ And he was like, ‘You’ll never see him.’ And then we come back from the commercial break and he’s all friendly with me again. ‘Okay, we’re back with Richard Simmons.’ You think I’m kidding, but I’m not making this up.”
Richard Simmons’ Big Heart
Over the years Simmons has developed a seemingly well-earned reputation as a guy with a huge heart and lots of empathy for those in emotional pain. He deeply identifies still with those who are overweight and feel trapped. “I call 40 to 50 overweight obese people a day. Some of them are housebound. Some of them have been trying to lose weight for 30, 40 years and they just can’t seem to get the food right or make time for the workouts. But I’m still always there to support them. I talked to a 650-pound man today.”
Simmons also has been involved in various charitable foundations, including donating the money to build a well for a children’s orphanage in South America.
Simmons Won’t Have Smack Talk
Simmons has one hot button: mocking people for their weight. He just won’t put up with it. “You just can’t do that in front of me. You can say anything you want to me, but you better not say anything that’s going to upset me about obese people. I’ve gotten emails where they go, ‘My wife’s a fat pig. She’ll buy your videos but then she eats Doritos.’ I’ll email that man back and say, ‘You should be ashamed of yourself! You are there to support your wife, not call her animal names. How dare you? This is the woman that loves you! She’s the mother of your children. You need to embrace her, tell her that you love her, and never call her names or embarrass her in front of other people.’”
Some feel that Simmons may have too much empathy and not enough boundaries. In an interview with Men’s Health, Simmons was discussing with the interviewer what it’s like to have so many emotionally involved fans who ask for Simmons’ help, and Simmons grew increasingly emotional.
He said, “Being successful (voice breaks) is something that’s sometimes hard to deal with. Walking down the street and having people come up to you and hug you and tell you that you’re (voice breaks) . . . I’m sorry . . . tell you that you’re doing good work. (Sniffs, pause.) I have a difficult time with it. It can make you feel crazy sometimes.”
Did Empathy Exposure Force Simmons into Hiding?
Commentators worry that because Simmons did not set more boundaries with his emotionally needy fans, he overwhelmed himself to a point of emotional shutdown. What can we expect of public figures?
On NPR they asked the question of Simmons’ fans turned friends, “Weren’t they friends? Wasn’t it like therapy? Friendship isn’t therapy. Holy moly, people, if you never believe anything else you read on the Internet, believe that friendship isn’t therapy and therapy isn’t friendship. When you’re asking both ‘weren’t these friendships?’ and ‘weren’t these therapeutic relationships?’ you are diagnosing in real time the problem with the direction such things can go. Without professional structure and rules, it’s not therapy. Without reciprocity, it’s not friendship.”
Simmons Lashes Out
In 2004, Simmons was arrested at a Phoenix airport for assaulting a man. The man claimed he simply joked with Simmons, saying “Let’s dance, drop your bags,” but Simmons insists it was more and gets agitated even remembering the incident which took place so long ago. “He was making fun of people in my videos who are overweight,” Simmons recalled.
“No, no, no! No one can make fun of overweight people in front of me! You can make fun of me. That’s fine. You can say anything you want to say about me. But don’t you dare address overweight people with terrible names and ugly remarks. That is what upsets me.”
Richard Simmons is well aware of his role for the American public and his role in particular for those who are suffering from feeling trapped in their bodies, unable to make a change. He provides comfort and answers to people who don’t have either. When asked if people should know the true Simmons or the cost to him of giving himself to people, he replies sadly to the interviewer.
“No one needs to know that about me. (Long pause.) No, nobody needs to know. I’m the clown you take out of the box and wind up when you need a good laugh. And then, when you’re done with me, I go back in my box.”
In March of 2016, New York Daily News ran a story entitled “Where’s Richard Simmons?” The story included personal accounts from some of Simmons’ friends, claiming that Simmons was being kept from his friends. One of those was Mauro Oliveira, a visual artist who was also Simmons’ masseur and former assistant. “All repeat the same message,” the article informs, “some anonymously and some on the record: Simmons stopped returning calls and emails more than two years ago, behavior that is highly out of character, and his housekeeper is blocking access to him at home.”
“I feel that Richard is now being controlled by the very people that he controlled his whole life,” Oliveira told the NYD. “Controlled in the sense that they are taking advantage of his weak mental state.” Simmons is believed by some to be suffering a debilitating depression, brought on by knee injuries which left him unable to teach or workout, and his beloved seventeen-year-old dog’s death.
Missing Richard Simmons
Missing Richard Simmons is a podcast that began in 2017. Documentarian (and former friend and fitness devotee) Dan Taberski hosted the six-part podcast that took the public’s fascination with the increasingly reclusive Simmons one step further, and dove deep. Missing Richard Simmons “tracks down and tries to understand what happened to Simmons, who, after decades of tireless friendship and generosity,” wrote Vulture, “through his exercise studio, personal classes, and overall persona — suddenly and inexplicably withdrew from the world.”
In the end, the podcast declared what was most likely from the beginning: that Simmons was simply done being a public figure, for reasons unknown, and had drawn into the privacy of his home.
No Real Answers
In the first episode of the podcast Missing Richard Simmons, narrator and friend Dan Taberski muses, “Why am I doing this? Because that year I got to know Richard, it made me even more fascinated than when I first proposed that documentary. I think he’s important. So much more so than his goofball public persona that he lets on. And also: because a lot of people who know him, and whose lives are changed by him, they’re worried. Or angry. Or full of grief. Some want to save him. Some want to just know that he’s okay.”
Taberski had pursued a documentary with Simmons before Simmons’ disappearance, and the exercise fanatic was not interested. Now, the documentary was done without him.
Simmons Speaks Out
In March of 2016, Richard Simmons saw that he was trending on Facebook as the concerned fans chatted on social media about his “disappearance” and if he was OK or not; theories abounded. “After some questions about my health and whereabouts, I’ll be calling into The Today Show tomorrow morning. If you’re wondering what I’ve been up to, I hope you’ll tune in!” Simmons wrote.
Simmons called into the Today show and did a brief interview with Savannah Guthrie. “No one should be worried about me,” Simmons said. “The people that surround me are wonderful people who take great care of me.” Simmons continued, “You know, I had hurt my knee, and I had some problems with it, and then the other knee started giving me trouble because I’ve taught like thousands and thousands of classes, and you know right now I just want to sort of take care of me.”
The Future of Richard Simmons
Richard Simmons is a beloved figure in American entertainment and fitness industry for decades and decades. After all these years of work and helping those who are struggling, Simmons can do whatever he likes. The public hopes that he is well and enjoying his time to himself, and is not being held captive in his home by his housekeeper, as some have suggested!
He told Savannah Guthrie on the Today Show, “For all the people that were worrying about me, I want to tell them that I love them with my whole heart and soul and that not to worry, Richard’s fine,” he said. “You haven’t seen the last of me. I’ll come back, and I’ll come back strong.”
He’s Not Gonna Take It
On May 8, 2017, Richard Simmons filed a lawsuit against the media company that owns both the National Enquirer and Radar Online. The suit alleges that the media outlets committed libel and invaded Simmons’ privacy by repeatedly insisting that his disappearance from the public eye is due to the fact that he’s undergoing surgeries in order to “transition from male to female.”
The legal documents indicate that the National Enquirer and Radar Online have claimed that Simmons has had “shocking sex surgery, breast implants, hormone treatments, and consultations on medical castration.” The lawsuit further states that the outlets “have cheaply and crassly commercialized and sensationalized an issue that ought to be treated with respect and sensitivity. Principles of freedom of speech and press may protect their prerogative to mock and degrade the LGBTQ community. But freedom to speak is not freedom to defame.”