I was standing at the dog park and a buddy of mine happened to mention a podcast his wife had been listening to. “Yeah, it’s called ‘Missing Richard Simmons.’ No one’s seen that guy in like two years,” he said.
At first I thought, surely not. If Richard Simmons was missing that long there’d be a lot more about it in the news, people would be in an uproar. Who doesn’t love him? Of course I immediately went home and looked it up, loading it on my podcast feed. Much to my amazement, it’s true no one’s seen him or heard from him personally in over two years.
This disturbed me. Why were people not more outraged? Richard was not just an exercise guru that should be allowed to fall off the grid (Billy Blanks, maybe but not Richard). As a kid, I remember seeing Simmons on television advertising his Sweatin’ to the Oldies. He was different in that he was not a size four blonde telling us we just had to work hard. He noticeably struggled with his weight — both gaining and losing it. He was one of the first to open up about his on-going battles with his weight on camera. Perhaps even more importantly, he always featured people of varying sizes and ags on his videos. In a fitness era where perfectionism was king, Richard made sure diversity at least got a seat at the table. He oftened counseled people on camera, hugging them and telling them he understood, emboldening them that they too could have a different life. He sympathized.
Any interview I ever saw with him portrayed him as a funny, but in-depth person who was on a mission to save the world through endorphins and eating well. He also had numerous products which added to his empire. In college I practically lived for weeks on his fat free caramel corn. The day I showed up at Wal-Mart to buy some and discovered it was no more, I came close to having a Michael Douglas Falling Down kind of moment. To think that Richard was going to be allowed, much like his caramel corn, to simply not be available is unfathomable.
The more I listened to the podcast, which is highly bingeable, I realized many other people shared my inability to accept this. Dan Taberski is a director, producer and podcaster who hosts “Missing Richard Simmons.” He’s also a personal friend of Simmons. He provocatively takes you on a wild ride interviewing drag queens, eccentric exercise students, and Richard’s former masseuse/lover in the process. Often, Dan excites us with a possible break in the mystery. We expect a hopped-up, exuberant Richard to pop out from under the very next stone only to be disappointed.
Several theories have evolved and Taberski works to debunk them all. Four episodes in, I have no idea which theory to credit. I find myself siding with one of Richards buddies, a drag queen who worked with him on songs. He believes that maybe Richard just decided to “go do him, just be by himself and do Richard.” Makes sense. In today’s age where there are so many pressures and endless to-do lists of tasks you never get to, plus add in someone like him having to keep up their public persona, I get it. I have days I want to just “go do me,” and I never helped anyone sweat to anything or designed mouthwatering caramel corn.
I don’t like this theory though. I don’t want to think we all drove Richard off with our needing to see his smile, wanting to hear his inspiring words. We all want our heroes to keep saving the day, not leave us to do it. Whether this is what Simmons did remains to be seen. I do know I will certainly be listening to every last episode to find out if Taberski’s the man to reveal the truth.
Remember this? How can a superstar like this simply vanish? Join the podcast and hopefully learn the truth.