real life

Four strange rules from inside Richard Simmons' fitness "cult".

Picture a ‘cult’. Go on, any cult. Create a mental picture in your mind.

Got it?

I’m willing to bet the leader isn’t a man dressed in a sparkly red fairy tutu.

Well, Richard Simmons was not exactly a cult leader, but at times he certainly ruled his exercise kingdom like one, according to his loyal followers.

Richard Simmons ran 'Slimmons' fitness studio and created dozens of aerobics videos. But he was mostly known for his manic personality. Images via Getty.

Richard Simmons, now 68, was a fitness guru. Among other things.

The curly-haired, feminine-voiced, energy-laden ball of flamboyance made the world of aerobics his own in the 80s and 90s with a series of high intensity fitness videos. Most notable among them, Sweating to the Oldies. 

He was filthy rich, and probably still is.

In an interview with David Letterman, Simmons revealed (with pride) his cut of the profit from Sweating to the Oldies was upwards of 40%. The at-home fitness video made more than $200 million.

And that was volume one of five...

As I said. Filthy rich.

However, his wealth never tainted his reputation. People more than loved him.  They adored him.

Despite his fame and notoriety, Simmons continued to lead classes at his personal fitness studio in Beverley Hills - Slimmons.

Simmons leading a 90-minute aerobics class at 'Slimmons' in 2013. Image via Getty.

He continued to run those classes up until early 2014. And once a class began, a squeamishly odd set of rules applied. Either you obeyed them, or left.

As filmmaker Dan Taberski reveals in his brand-new podcast Missing Richard Simmons (about Simmons' sudden disappearance from the public eye - more on that later) there were four main rules that had to be obeyed during any Simmons-led fitness class; four main rules you had to follow to exist peacefully within the Slimmons cult...

#1 Know your place.

"When you're at Slimmons dancing on top of that worn wooden floor, beneath that disco ball, and in front of those chipped- mirrored walls, you can't just stand anywhere", says Taberski, an ex-Slimmons regular himself.

Richard leading a class in front of the floor-to-ceiling mirrors at the front of the studio. Image via Getty.

"Gawkers and newbies beware: the first two rows are for regulars only."

Rick and Paul "earned their spot" in the front row of Slimmons before its closure. They tell Taberski,  "I think for a while we were in the third row... if you were facing the mirror [the floor-to ceiling mirrors at the front of the class, behind Simmons] we were on the left side by the big fan."

"Eventually were literally in the front row by the big fan. We made it."

Listen: Mamamia's Katy Hall tries her absolute best to weasel her way out of a gym membership, on Mamamia Out Loud. Post continues after audio.

#2 No mobile phone or cameras.

"After the class, Richard will hang around forever taking pictures with everybody."

However, while the class is actually happening, Simmons' attitude toward any camera or recording device is entirely different.

"During the class, don't even try it." says Taberski. "[Richard is] not screwing around about this."


Well, probably because of rule number three...

#3 Richard is going to get REALLY freaky.

"A little bit performance art and a lot of burlesque."

That's how Taberski, from experience, describes the average Slimmons class.

Other former regulars agree.

"Everyone lines up around the perimeter of the room and he invites people to dance with him", one man - an unnamed former regular - tells Taberski on the podcast.

It gets a whole lot weirder...

"If you're a man, he asks you to take your shirt off," the unnamed man says.

"If you're a man, he asks you to take your shirt off." Image via Getty. Image via Getty.

And if you resist? Well Simmons pretty much rips it off you.

"If you're standing close enough to hear him, he [Richard] will be like 'No, f*ck it! Take your shirt off.'"

No wonder cameras aren't allowed.

"He does it all the time", the former regular goes on. "There are times he'd flash us... he's very sexual and very flirty."

What else?

"Crawling through guys legs; having them do push-ups on top of him; touching..."

#4 At some point during the 90-min class... Richard is going to cry.

Dan Taberski desribes Richard Simmons as a man who wasn't afraid to "bare his soul."

Taberski's friend and colleague, actor Lauren Weedman, accompanied him to one of the classes at Slimmons. 

And as she says on the podcast, it was nothing like what she expected.

"He [Simmons] is not what he's like on TV", Weedman says. "He's even more hilarious."

"Until he starts crying."

Taberski adds, "It has happened in every class I've ever been to. Sometimes it's brought on by a story about someone he's helped... sometimes it's a personal story about his own struggles. And sometimes it just sort of creeps up on him, like when he's working us through some arm curls."

"He'll just lose it."

Weedman adds, "It was out of control crying. At the time, I remember thinking it was scary... he goes so far... he's crumbling right in front of you."

It was an outpouring of raw despair from the usually eclectic guru. And according to those closest to him, it came about in every class.

Simmons in 2013. Image via Getty.

His followers - men and women of all shapes and sizes - idolised him. He wasn't merely their fitness instructor... he was their life coach.

Whatever Simmons said, went. Simple as that.

It was probably this unfaltering loyalty that led participants not to question his unorthodox - and eerily sexual - modus operandi. But I digress...

On February 15th 2014, Simmons disappeared from the public eye. Vanished. Without telling a sole.

One day he simply failed to turn up on time for a class at Slimmons. And that was that. He went from being the world's most outgoing, maniacal personality... to a recluse.

Dan Taberski was waiting at Slimmons the day Richard failed to turn up. And so began his podcast journey - a journey that aimed to answer the question: Why did Richard Simmons ghost the world?

The Missing Richard Simmons podcast blurb reads as follows...

On February 15, 2014, fitness guru Richard Simmons disappeared. He stopped teaching his regular exercise class at Slimmons, cut off his closest friends, and removed himself from the public eye after decades as one of the most accessible celebrities in the world. Nobody has heard from him - and no one knows why he left. Filmmaker Dan Taberski was a Slimmons regular and a friend of Richard’s. Missing Richard Simmons is Dan’s search for Richard - and the deeper he digs, the stranger it gets.

Taberski interviews everyone who might know anything about Simmons' disappearance. From close friends, to family, to regulars at Slimmons.

His quest - not to 'find' Richard, but to make sure he's okay - is a gripping one.

You won't be able to stop listening.

You can learn more about Dan Taberski's quest to find Richard, and listen to all the episodes of Missing Richard Simmons, here.

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