It's 10 PM. Do you know where Richard Simmons is?
According to the LAPD, all is well and he's at home, though the widely-popular podcast Missing Richard Simmons caused me and the rest of the world to question the validity of that statement. To give you some backstory, everyone's favorite fitness guru hadn't been seen in over 3 years, prompting filmmaker Dan Taberski and Slimmons fitness studio alum to go on an investigative mission in hopes of uncovering where he is, what caused him to take a break from the public, and most importantly, if he's okay. Throughout the 6-episode series, Taberski speaks to friends of Richard's, former clients turned friends, and business associates, not to mention, reflects on previous interviews attempting to find clues that might give insight as to why he cut off contact with everyone. The final episode aired this week—a few days earlier than the usual Wednesday release—and I won't spoil the plot or ending for you, but there were so many parts that tugged at my heartstrings. I started crying on the subway hearing Simmons talk to Oprah about growing up overweight, abusing diet pills, and eventually spiraling out into anorexia and bulimia. Oh, Richard.
It was a topic I was pretty familiar with—if you asked my mother, she'd tell you I absolutely had an eating problem, and was a total pain in the ass while going through it. If you asked me, I'd tell you it was a phase I went through where I wouldn't allow myself to exceed a certain calorie count, religiously recorded my intake, ate 9 diet pills a day, and was a complete bitch to just about everyone as a result. I'd claim it wasn't a problem because other people had it way worse, and it's not even like I was thin enough to fit the bill. Then again, I would be in total denial that it was an actual thing, wouldn't I? It's just weird admitting out loud. I digress.
In each episode, Taberski interviews people who have had their lives completely changed by Simmons citing his Deal-A-Meal program, the classes he taught at Slimmons, his Cruise to Lose, and most famously, his workout videos. I was pretty familiar with Simmons and his empire before the podcast, he always seemed fun and pleasant every time I'd catch him on TV, though I do vividly remember being woken up from a nap in high school by my mom loudly watching and doing the Richard Simmons Broadway Sweat workout in my room on one occasion. Her excuse? The TV in my room was the only one in our house that had yet to be converted to a DVD player, so the '90s-era set by my bed with the built-in VHS player was her sole option. I never completely understood it, that is, until I became obsessed with this podcast and felt compelled to do every single installment of Sweatin' to the Oldies. So that's what I did.
I lowered the blinds in my apartment so that my neighbors wouldn't see me gyrating to the Sweat and Shout video I decoded to start with, and moved my coffee table out of the way. It didn't take long after hitting the play button for me to get the appeal. The workouts were fast-paced, but doable, and the catchy music combined with the theatrics certainly didn't hurt. Within seconds of the start of the video, a church choir singing "Shout" emerged with Richard and his class in tow, all doing series upon series of warm-up motions. As Taberski mentions in the podcast, Simmons's videos were unique for their time in that the fitness models were comprised of real people, which made the workouts far less intimidating and more relatable to everyone tuning in at home. Even then, before diversity became as widely-discussed as it is today (about time, right?), Richard recognized the importance of representing real people. Not to mention, these real people looked like they were having a total blast.
As the workout increased in intensity, I found myself even breaking a sweat and having to stop for water occasionally, which like, of course it's a given that would happen, but I guess I had my own presumptions of how the video would go based solely on my pre-podcast viewings of Broadway Sweat. If you're a Slimmons alum like Taberski was, you'll know that Richard would occasionally bare his soul to the class mid-session, often breaking into tears when things got a little too real. This wasn't to be expected in his videos, but he offered up tons of motivational words between lunges and arm circles. "Remember to hug yourself. It's important to hug yourself," he'd say. I swear, he was more encouraging than teachers I had in school growing up—and this was only 10 minutes in.
I finished out the video feeling great. Tired and sweaty, but good overall. After I took a break to watch an episode (okay, 3 episodes) of Vanderpump Rules, I picked back up with Sweatin' to the Oldies. It continued this way for a few days. I covered Sweatin' to the Oldies 2 and 3, then finished the weekend with Disco Sweat. Richard had this contagious energy, and I imagine taking an actual class with him would have been every bit the experience Taberski described. Even through a pixelated video air-playing on my Apple TV, his motivational snippets kind of what I needed to hear, so I get how he could make people feel good and important, no matter how brief their interaction happened to be.
I listened to the final episode of Missing Richard Simmons this morning, and the conspiracy theorist in me wants to believe we're not getting the entire story here—even Taberski admitted that a lot of content had to be edited or cut entirely in the moments leading up to its release—while another part of me hopes the conclusion is genuine, and all is well with Richard. That man is a national treasure. There were times when I felt weird and invasive for being so invested in his life that I was theorizing whether or not he was being held captive by his housekeeper, or just wanted time away. Like, why is it even our business, right? Again, I won't spoil it for you, the entire series is worth a listen, not to mention, allows you to see such a public figure you thought you knew under a totally different lens. I know I'm far from the only one who hopes he'll re-emerge someday. He meant a lot to so many people, many of whom feel that they deserve closure. Debatable, I'm sure, but until that point, the rest of us can refer to his countless workout videos archived on YouTube for that extra motivation.