He was a prolific media star for decades: publishing twelve books, 36 fitness videos, cassette tapes, records, CDs, as well as running his own fitness studio. He was a favourite for talk shows, appearing on Letterman, The Rosie O’Donnell Show, and scores of others, until he hosted his own Emmy award-winning fitness and health talk show. He was EVERYWHERE.
And then, one day in February 2014, he just didn’t rock up to work.
He stopped teaching his regular exercise class, cut off his closest friends, removed himself from the public eye entirely. And now, a podcast series is trying to bring him back into the spotlight.
Missing Richard Simmons is top of the iTunes charts. It’s been slated by the New York Times as the next ‘cult audio obsession’, and people are already comparing it to the most successful podcast to date, WBEZ’s Serial. A show with three separate advertisers who are all benefitting from the thousands of downloads, the favourable reviews, a frothing public and media who are desperate to find out where Richard has been. Yes, it’s compelling listening. But the vital question here is: why are we uncovering a man who has deliberately chosen to remain out of the public eye?
Despite the outwardly gregarious personality he displayed on TV and in appearances, Richard was known to be a recluse. A person of few friends. He gave all of himself to the media, but it was known in tight circles that he was carrying some issues. It’s been reported that in his tight-knit, warts-n-all fitness class, he would break down and sob. Sometimes multiple times. In those same fitness classes, there was a firm policy of no filming, photos, recordings of any kind. Outside of those four sweaty walls, he would pose for hundreds of pictures, shake hands, kiss everyone.