Former Fatty Richard Simmons Is the Grand Duke of Diet and the Clown Prince of Fitness

When Richard Simmons was little, he wasn’t so little. By the time he was 19 he was as round as the Pillsbury Doughboy. Yet even at a blubbery 268 pounds, the 5’7″ Louisianian was much in demand as an actor and model. In Italy, where he was studying art, Simmons played fleshy grotesques in Fellini’s Satyricon and The Clowns, and appeared in 137 commercials—including TV spots for chubby jeans, Dannon yogurt and Fruit of the Loom. “I felt like the Italian Cheryl Tiegs,” he recalls.

Then, one day in 1968, Simmons found an anonymous note on the windshield of his car. It read: “Dear Richard: Fat people die young. Please don’t die.” Frightened, Simmons became obsessed with losing weight, and over the next two and a half months shed 112 pounds by starving himself, popping diet pills, undergoing hypnosis, taking injections and exercising to the point of exhaustion. “I ended up looking like a thin Glad bag,” he recalls. “My hair fell out, my skin drooped, my breath was foul and my mood matched.” Now, 13 years, one hair transplant and several surgical nips and tucks later, Simmons has been reborn at 32 as the clown prince of fitness. The star of his own syndicated half-hour TV show, seen in 132 markets nationwide, he also appears regularly, as himself, on ABC’s top-rated soap General Hospital. And his Richard Simmons’ Never-Say-Diet Book (Warner Books, $14.95), with 295,000 hardcover copies in print, has topped the national bestseller lists.

As the title of his book suggests, Simmons wants the word “diet” stricken from the English language. “Look at it,” he says. “The first syllable is die. Now, is that any way to inspire anyone?” He calls his own regimen the “Live-It” Plan—a three-point program that focuses on balanced meals, daily exercises and, above all, a positive outlook.

What makes Simmons’ approach so appealing is the breezy irreverence of the master himself. Never-Say-Diet, for example, contains sections like Coming to Grips with Your Hips and How to Eat Out and Not Pig Out, and is liberally sprinkled with the author’s own “True Confessions.” “The only time I wasn’t fat,” he writes, “was the day I was born. I went directly from pabulum to crepes suzette.”

The same compulsive flow of one-liners is the hallmark of his campy TV show. In between sit-ups and low-cal cooking lessons, Simmons dishes up a smorgasbord of characters, from the Reverend Pounds (“a man of the cloth—the tablecloth”) to a cop on the Slob Squad who patrols supermarkets and gives tickets to shoppers buying fattening foods. Off-camera, Simmons himself has even been known to accost strangers caught in the act of overindulging. “I’ll see an overweight woman eating a butterscotch sundae,” he says, “and I’ll sit at her table and say, ‘What is this?’ For me this is not a job,” he explains, “it’s a mission.”

The younger son of a retired vaudeville dance team, Simmons grew up in New Orleans tubbily oblivious to his eventual calling. Given the surname Milton at birth, he tired of it at 11 and changed it to Richard. Still, he languished in the shadow of his brother Lenny, who, he says, “was perfect in every way.” Richard’s solution was to stuff himself. “Food is a big number in New Orleans,” he recalls. “When I went away to camp I was the only kid who put béarnaise sauce on his Rice Krispies.” To make matters worse, both parents were accomplished cooks. “When tourists asked me, ‘Where’s the best food in town?’ ” he claims, “I’d bring them home.”

By the time he was a high school freshman (“I majored in lunch”), Richard was 70 pounds overweight. After graduation he went into a seminary, then dropped out (“Black was not my color”) to enroll at Florida State University. In 1967 he made his fateful trip to Europe, where his damn-the-torpedoes weight loss landed him in a hospital and persuaded him to read up on nutrition. Returning to the U.S. in 1971, he tested his newfound willpower by taking a job as maître d’ in a Los Angeles restaurant. “I was amazed at how people overate,” he admits. “I had flashbacks of being fat and I said, ‘I can’t feed people this stuff.’ ” So he quit, and in 1975 opened Ruffage and the Anatomy Asylum, a combination health food restaurant and exercise studio in the heart of Beverly Hills.

As a host, Simmons acquired a reputation for genial outrageousness. When new customers arrived, he would sit them down, hop in their laps and tell them they were fat. The Ruffage clientele—which included Simmons’ idol Barbra Streisand (“She walked in and I almost went into cardiac arrest”), Dustin Hoffman, Cheryl Ladd, Diana Ross and Paul Newman—ate it up. Soon Simmons was a regular on the talk-show circuit, and in 1979 he made the first of his weekly General Hospital appearances.

In Simmons’ future are projects including a Mexico-bound “Cruise to Lose” for 500 fatties, a recreational center for the handicapped (Ruffage is now closed for conversion into additional exercise space) and a second self-help tome, The Never Say You Can’t Cook Book. He is also writing a screenplay with the working title Lbs. Such a schedule requires sacrifices, and Simmons has made them. “I don’t have a social life,” he complains. “I don’t party. I never see people. But if I do go to a restaurant, people come up and chat. And then,” he sighs, “the entire place watches me eat.”

Fit at Simmons

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Fit at Simmons provides opportunities for students to stay active and develop lifestyles of physical fitness and health. Most events are free for students and are supported by a generous gift from Nancy Gavrin ’58.

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Fall 2019 Class Schedule

Yoga Classes

FIT at Simmons Yoga classes are designed to support your overall well-being and help make connections between your mind-body health. Classes are appropriate for students of all experience levels. Mats and blocks are available.

Yoga: Vinyasa flow appropriate for beginners (or those wanting to just slow down). Move connected to your breath and focus on alignment, flexibility and stress reduction. Variations enable the practice to be more or less advanced.

Advanced Flow Yoga: A faster-paced Vinyasa flow that will challenge your balance, flexibility, and strength. Come with body awareness and some general knowledge about yoga. Move connected to your breath for stress reduction and full body recovery.

Stress Reduction Yoga: Combines skills to manage stress in a self-compassionate way and a body-positive gentle yoga class. Taught by a certified yoga instructor with a Masters in Mental Health Counseling. This class is 75 minutes long.

Gentle Yoga: Mindful gentle yoga movement and restorative poses designed for releasing tension in the body, stretching, building flexibility, re-energizing and finding greater ease and relaxation in the body and mind. Suitable for all levels.

Guided Meditation: Learn guided meditation and mindfulness skills to cultivate greater calm, clarity, energy, focus and presence. The class will introduce a variety of skills from yoga and mindfulness meditation practices for relaxation and wellbeing. Everyone is welcome.

Classes are free for all Simmons undergraduate and graduate students. A fee for classes does apply for Simmons faculty and staff members as well as sports center members, Colleges of the Fenway members and guests.

Align and Flow Yoga (60 minutes) – Utilizing Sun Salutations, strength building and connected movements, Align and Flow Yoga will build confidence and help you discover more peace and joy. All are encouraged to accept the beauty of their practice without needing to achieve anything other than coming into the present moment and truly experiencing it. All levels welcome.

Butts & Guts (30 minutes) – Butts & Guts focuses specifically on developing strong, powerful lower body and core muscle groups in a short 30 minutes class by using various types of resistance training techniques, including resistance bands and body weight exercises.

Cardio Kickboxing (60 minutes) – Cardio Kickboxing is a combination of cardio exercise and self-defense. Come for a great workout of jumping, kicking, punching and heart-pumping fun that will challenge your cardio fitness and give you a full-body workout!

Hip Hop (60 minutes) – Hip hop your way through an hour of high-energy dance set to pop and hip hop tunes. A short warm up will be followed by easy to follow routines to your favorite songs! Come prepared to dance, prior dance experience not necessary!

Insanity (60 minutes) – A heart-thumping class designed around the principles of Max-Interval training. This pre-choreographed class will challenge you to achieve your fitness goals and give you a faster metabolism without the use of weights or other gym apparatus.

LGBTQIA Yoga – Have you ever felt nervous about going to class because you didn’t feel like you, your body type, or expression would be represented by others in the room? This LGBTQIA yoga class is an all-levels align and flow class that encourages students to bring openness, awareness, and non-judgment to their practices and will work to make a space that affirms all of our identities. LGBTQIA folks of all identities, expressions, bodies, sizes and abilities welcome. Allies are also welcome. Wear whatever makes you feel comfortable, except for jeans.

Rockout, Workout (60 minutes) – A workout that combines fitness and fun by combining a total body cardio workout with a variety of dance moves and combinations! Be prepared for a little bit of everything! Includes elements of cardio, strength and flexibility. No prior dance experience is necessary.

Spin (60 minutes) – Whether you’re an avid cyclist or just love the high-energy of a fitness class, this ride is for you. This class is taught with an endurance road ride in mind – complete with hill climbs, intervals and music that will keep you wanting more.

Tabata (30 minutes) – Tabata is 20 seconds of high intensity training followed by 10 seconds of rest. Tabata Boot Camp workouts are designed to boost post exercise caloric burn so your metabolism keeps burning more calories long after the exercise is over. Great for increasing athletic performance, VO2max, and decreasing body fat.
Zumba (30 minutes) – Zumba Fitness is a Latin-inspired dance class workout based on the principle that a workout should be “Fun and Easy to Do”. On top of being tons of fun, Zumba torches calories. Zumba combines rhythms such as salsa, merengue, Cumbia, reggaeton, and of course hip hop. Anyone and everyone can do Zumba, it takes the work out of work out!


Welcome to University Recreation!

What’s New:

  • Mark your calendars! The 20th annual Wellness Expo is March 4, 12-3 pm! Come see us at the Foy for lots of freebies, shirt tie-dying and to find out how to reach your health & wellness goals!
  • Trying to avoid the crowds? Find out just how many people are in the Foy with our new Facility Counter!
  • Start the New Year & Spring Semester off strong! Check out our FREE Group Fitness classes or secure your spot in Boot Camp today and get fit with UREC!

Group Fitness Schedule

Find fitness classes that work for you! From Zumba® and POUND® to Cycling or Women’s Weight Training, we have something to make you sweat! Group Fitness classes are FREE with Foy access.

Find a Class for You!Aerial Silks Registration is Open!

Try something new and challenging this year! Aerial Silks is a circus art that combines yoga, pilates and dance inspired movements partially or fully suspended. Looking for a new workout to build strength & flexibility? Sign up for Aerial Conditioning! Spring sessions begin the week of Jan. 27!

Register Today!Spring Intramurals

Don’t miss out on our upcoming sports this Spring! From Indoor Volleyball to Racquetball and Softball, we have something for you! Session 1 deadline is Jan. 30.

Find your Sport!Ski & Snowboard with Govs Outdoors!

Go to Paoli Peaks, IN Feb. 7-8 to ski, snowboard, and play in the snow! The $100 trip fee covers travel, lodging, food and lift tickets. Never been on the slopes? No problem! Lessons are available at the resort for a small additional fee.

Register Today!

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25 Group Fitness Classes per Week 2.96 Average GPA of students using the Foy Center 88 Student Employees 48 Pieces of Strength Equipment 9 Govs Outdoors Trips per Semester 96 Number of Hours Open per Week during Semesters

APSU University Recreation is proud to be one of over 600 international institutional members of the National Intramural-Recreational Sports Association (NIRSA).

This prestigious organization serves as an outstanding resource for programming, services, and operations. Our colleagues eagerly share both tried-and-true best practices and innovative, cutting-edge ideas to help us continue to meet the needs of Austin Peay’s dynamic, diverse and expanding population.

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12 Facts You May Be Missing About Richard Simmons

Taking the central conceit of Serial and dropping it into a group fitness class, the Missing Richard Simmons podcast has become must-listen entertainment in recent weeks. Recounting filmmaker Dan Taberski’s attempts to coerce Simmons out of an apparently self-imposed three-year exile, the podcast has reinvigorated interest in the flamboyant fitness guru.

The final installment, which came out yesterday, did not answer every lingering question surrounding his seeming disappearance, but there’s still plenty of Simmons lore to pore over. Check out 12 things that may help you better understand the man behind the sequined tank tops.


Born in 1948, Simmons was raised in a very religious household in the French Quarter of New Orleans. After graduating from high school, he entered a Dominican seminary in Iowa and stayed for nearly two years before leaving. “It just wasn’t for me,” he said, citing his 240-pound frame that had been engorged on food addiction from an early age and his “loud” persona as being less than fitting for the job. Simmons also tried getting into medicine but found that “dead bodies blood” were unnerving. He also had stints as a cosmetics executive and fashion illustrator before finding his niche in the fitness industry, opening the Anatomy Asylum exercise studio in 1975.


According to a 1981 feature in The New York Times, Simmons was working as a “fat model” in Europe in 1968 when he found a handwritten note stuck to his car. “Fat people die young,” the paper read. “Please don’t die. Anonymous.” Rattled by the message, the then-268-pound Simmons developed an eating disorder, surviving on water and lettuce for more than two months. Eventually, he recovered and developed a new philosophy: “Love yourself, move your body and watch your portions.”


Before Simmons slimmed down, he was enjoying the cuisine of Florence, Italy, where he was studying art in the late 1960s. While there, Simmons nabbed parts in two movies by acclaimed Italian filmmaker Federico Fellini: Satyricon and The Clowns. The footage is apparently the only existing evidence of his former frame: Simmons once said he “burned” all other photos prior to his weight loss.


No video store in the 1980s was complete without a section devoted to fitness. Industry stars like Jake Steinfeld and Tony Little shared shelf space with tapes from Jane Fonda and Arnold Schwarzenegger. In almost all of these releases, perfectly-proportioned motivators and models led viewers through rigorous workout routines. When Simmons started his Sweatin’ to the Oldies series in 1988, he elected to populate his stage with regular people who were still struggling with weight loss. Consumers appreciated that Simmons wasn’t holding them up to a fitness magazine ideal, and the Sweatin’ series went on to sell 25 million copies.


Early in his mission to eliminate excess adipose tissue, Simmons admitted to confronting total strangers over some of their dietary choices. “I’ll see an overweight woman eating a butterscotch sundae,” he told People in 1981, “and I’ll sit at her table and say, ‘What is this?’” When he operated a trendy Los Angeles eatery he called Ruffage in 1975, he’d also sit down with his customers and tell them if they needed to lose weight.


In 1987, syndicated TV distributor Lorimar attempted to capitalize on the home-shopping craze with ValueTelevision, a one-hour show where viewers could place orders via the telephone for featured products. The series was co-hosted by Jeopardy! star Alex Trebek. When the ratings were less than Lorimar anticipated, they fired Trebek and replaced him with Simmons. Nothing seemed to work, and the show was canceled in June.


Beginning in 1979, Simmons appeared on the ABC soap opera General Hospital as a fitness instructor. With the cast, he began making personal appearances at shopping malls: Simmons was so impressed by the number of people he could reach this way that he continued even after leaving the show in the early 1980s. “I travel almost 300 days a year,” he said in 1991. “I do mostly shopping malls, because everyone will come to a shopping mall, no matter what they weigh, no matter their economic structure, no matter what they drive. The malls are the meeting places of America. And so that’s where I go.”


In 2004, Simmons was at Phoenix’s Sky Harbor Airport when a fellow passenger made a caustic remark about his Sweatin’ to the Oldies series of tapes. According to police, the man spotted Simmons and shouted, “Hey, everybody, it’s Richard Simmons. Let’s drop our bags and rock to the ‘50s.” The heckling was unappreciated by Simmons, who reportedly walked over and slapped the man across the face. According to the Bangor Daily News, police cited him with misdemeanor assault. The case was later settled and dropped.


Simmons was a frequent guest on David Letterman’s late-night talk shows, with Letterman often playing the straight man to the hyper antics of Simmons. In 2000, Simmons took a break from the appearances after Letterman playfully sprayed him with a fire extinguisher, prompting the asthmatic Simmons to have so much trouble breathing that paramedics were called. The normally affable Simmons was so upset by the incident that he refused to appear on the show for six years.


Speaking with the Denver Post in 2008, Simmons said that he very rarely visits restaurants owing to the fact that people can’t stop craning their necks to see what the diet guru has ordered. To maintain some semblance of privacy, Simmons typically gets room service while traveling. He also avoids grocery stores, citing concerns that people tend to call him over and ask him to read the ingredients label to see if it’s a healthy option.


Describing himself as a “loner” who doesn’t have many friends, Simmons once revealed a strong emotional bond with his three Dalmatians he named after characters in Gone with the Wind. When traveling, Simmons said he would call his house and sing to them over the telephone.


As his fame and success grew, Simmons became a fixture on television and in print. Speaking to People for a profile in November 1981, the fitness expert said he received 25,000 to 30,000 letters every day and tried to meet as many people who requested his help as possible. “The day I don’t love any of this,” he said, “I’ll walk away.”

All images courtesy of Getty Images.

Sweatin’ to Richard Simmons – Revealing Insights into his Outsized Personality

His reputation as a pioneering fitness guru with his classic line of Sweatin’ to the Oldies videos is the stuff of legend. His colorful personality has earned him both kudos and ridicule. Once seen never forgotten, Richard Simmons is an enduring presence in American media. But what motivates the motivator? Here are 10 revealing facts about the finely-tuned fitness instructor…

10. Religion was nearly his calling

Richard Simmons attending the AARP’s 2011 [email protected]+ National Event and Expo in September 2011. Photo by Angela George CC BY-SA 3.0

Simmons nearly wound up wearing a dog collar instead of spandex. Born in New Orleans in 1948, he embraced Catholicism from a young age. After leaving high school he spent nearly two years at a Dominican seminary in Iowa.

Speaking to the Chicago Tribune in 1984, he said “I didn’t look anything like a priest… I was rather on the loud side. I mean, there was nothing calm or poetic about this mouth of mine.” However the experience did inform his later life. “I may not be performing my exercises in a church,” he commented, “but my exercise studios are a religious experience.”

9. He was a pioneer of video

Richard Simmons 1998. Photo by John Mathew Smith CC BY-SA 2.0

Not in technical terms, but in relation to his audience. Video put famous faces like Jane Fonda in people’s homes, though the chances of viewers resembling celebs were unlikely.

With his Sweatin’ To The Oldies (as in music) series, Simmons put all types of people in the frame, which made his productions stand out as well as sell in the millions.

“Being an instructor, you have a lot of responsibility,” he told in 2014, saying amongst other things that “you have to keep them motivated” and “you have to kind of spin a web around someone, a spell, that they don’t think they’re working out.” This sensitive approach was much appreciated by the public.

8. He appeared in two Fellini movies

Federico Fellini

Simmons is something of a performer — his long-standing role on General Hospital (between 1979 – 83) was testament to that. His interest in acting led to him working for one of the all-time great art house directors, Federico Fellini. Satyricon (1969) and The Clowns (1970) feature Simmons, though not in the form audiences know him today. A 2017 Mental Floss article writes that at the time “he was enjoying the cuisine of Florence, Italy, where he was studying art in the late 1960s.”

When Simmons slimmed down, he reportedly destroyed pictorial evidence of his former self. This makes Fellini’s movies an unexpected but unique record of how things used to be.

7. He replaced Alex Trebek on a home shopping show

Richard Simmons. Photo by wsh1266 CC BY SA 2.0

Jeopardy’s Alex Trebek was the initial host of ValueTelevision, a 1987 home shopping show. Occupying an hour slot, it was hoped distributor Lorimar would have a hit on their hands. Unfortunately viewers simply weren’t buying it.

So Richard Simmons was brought in to replace Trebek and get the nation purchasing. Even his enthusiastic sales pitch couldn’t inspire couch potatoes, and the program went off air soon after.

6. He avoids restaurants

Simmons in 2007. Photo by Del Far CC BY 2.0

In 2008 Simmons was being interviewed by the Denver Post, where it was revealed that restaurants weren’t exactly his favorite places. “Rarely does he do restaurants because people are always curious about what’s on Simmons’ plate,” the piece states.

He also reportedly felt uncomfortable about eating around other diners while staying in hotels. This was due to the pressure his presence would place on their meal choices, meaning he often kept out of the way and ordered room service.

5. David Letterman nearly put him in a hospital

David Letterman. Photo by Sarah E. Freeman/Grady College CC BY 2.0

Soap operas, game shows and movie makers were only too keen to have the eye-catching Simmons appear onscreen. He had some small screen shows of his own, and naturally the talk show circuit wanted a piece of the fitness craze action.

He visited the Late Show With David Letterman on numerous occasions, where the host would have fun pranking his larger than life guest. But talking to Men’s Health in 2012, Simmons was under the impression he wasn’t liked. “You’re just not allowed to talk to him,” he said. “Or if you are, he’s very standoffish… Maybe that’s just how he is with me, I don’t know.”

Tensions existed between them when in 2000 Letterman sprayed Simmons with a fire extinguisher, triggering an asthma attack. Despite expressing love for the awkward interview master, Simmons stayed away from the Late Show for six years following the incident.

4. He really, really loves his dogs

A Corgi dog wearing a crown

For Simmons, man’s best friend is definitely his dog. Or rather, dogs. The Denver Post writes that he named his three canines “after characters from “Gone With the Wind” (Scarlett, Pittypat, Melanie)”.

While he’s away, he wants them to know they aren’t far from his thoughts, so “he calls his house every night to talk with his dogs and sing to them.” Now that’s doggy devotion.

3. He doesn’t do sarcasm

Simmons comes across as a fun personality, but like anybody he has sore spots. A passenger at Sky Harbor Airport in Phoenix found that out the hard way in 2004 when he made a less-than-courteous remark in the fitness fanatic’s direction. According to Mental Floss, the man “spotted Simmons and shouted, ‘Hey, everybody, it’s Richard Simmons. Let’s drop our bags and rock to the ‘50s.’”

The rocker in question responded by going up to the man (described by Today as a “motorcycle salesman who stands more than six feet tall and competes in the martial-arts sport of cage fighting”) and slapped him in the face. An assault charge was leveled but the matter was settled out of court.

2. He doesn’t shy away from advising overweight strangers

Richard Simmons with Jennie Frankel and Terrie Frankel, NYC, 1995

He dislikes competitiveness and shaming in the field of fighting fat. However this doesn’t stop Simmons talking to strangers he feels need a quiet word about their weight. A patron at an eatery may well receive a surprise when Simmons takes a seat and talks to them about their ill-advised yet delicious food choice.

Interviewed by, he said of his interactions with the public that “my job is to give them hope. Because with hope you can cope. I’m a good listener, and then I try to give them the best advice I can give them.”

1. An anonymous note concerning his weight started his fitness career

Simmons’ career in fitness began via unconventional means. The New York Times did a feature in 1981 referencing an unsolicited source who left a note on Simmons’ car in 1968. It read “Fat people die young. Please don’t die.”

Whether this was down to his job as a plus size model or other reasons, the young Simmons took the random communication to heart. “Rattled by the message,” Mental Floss writes, “the then-268-pound Simmons developed an eating disorder, surviving on water and lettuce for more than two months.”

Read another story from us: The Works of JRR Tolkien Inspired Many Led Zeppelin Hits

Whatever the misguided intentions of the anonymous writer, it took Simmons’ life in a positive direction. “Hey, I became a millionaire,” he told the Chicago Tribune. “I became successful, but I still don’t look like Tom Selleck. I look like the best Richard Simmons I can be, and that’s good enough for me.”

Courtesy of author; Aaron Cobbett / Getty Images

Richard Simmons has received a lot of press lately—and none of it’s great. Most recently he made headlines for strange behavior signaling severe dehydration. Before that he had to make a public statement that, no, as a matter of fact he was not transitioning to a woman. And before that he shut down rumors that he was being held captive in his home.

Well, this is not the Richard Simmons I know—the flamboyant fitness legend who changed people’s lives. I’m a child of the eighties, when aerobics thrived and Simmons, who is now 68 years old, was the ruler. His wildly popular Sweatin’ to the Oldies line of videos was a staple in many American homes—including my own, where I’d prance alongside my mother to the animated and eccentric television personality. Sure, he caught a lot of guff in those days, too, but he always hiked up his tiny little shorts and laughed it off because what he was doing was showy, silly, and amazingly powerful.

That’s why, when a few years ago I was lucky enough to attend a class he taught at Slimmons, his gloriously named exercise studio in Beverly Hills, I was utterly giddy. I was in town with my best friend as part of an L.A. girls’ weekend, flying in from NYC. When I inquired about the class by leaving a message at the studio, Richard personally returned my call with a voicemail that sang-shouted, “Anne, I cannot wait to SWEAT WITH YOU!”

Simmons made a name for himself when he made working out accessible to everyone, no matter what they looked like in a leotard. And that sense of inclusivity is alive and well at his studio to this day.

A 75-minute class at Slimmons will set you back $12 and you’re asked to bring an exercise mat or beach towel. Reservations aren’t taken, and up to an hour prior to class, a handful of devoted fans gather around the lobby of the concrete squatty building waiting to sweat with the fitness legend.

Regulars relax at a smattering of tables that look as if they’ve been there since the studio’s inception in 1974, while newbies peruse the VHS tapes and a T-shirt collection. Swept up in the frenzy, I bought a hot pink shirt, stamped with our hero’s face, proclaiming, “I Sweat With Richard Simmons.” By the time class was ready to start, 80-plus people of all shapes, sizes, and ages filed into the no-frills fitness studio—flanked with floor-to-ceiling mirrors and adorned with a disco ball spinning overhead. I felt like I’d stepped into my own surprise birthday party—a beginner giddy with excitement. A fit-looking young man named David tells me that Richard had helped him to lose over 150 pounds and keep it off.

When The Weight Saint (as he’s referred to on social media) enters the room—in his signature shorty shorts, sheer tights, and bedazzled neon tank top—he registers as petite, but larger than life; a god in spandex. It could have been Beyoncé ** and we were his hive. The entire lot of us begin to clap like a herd of possessed sea lions. Simmons reciprocates this love to his fans with hugs and tears.

Unlike other workout classes that I force myself to attend, this was fun AF.

The music blares while Simmons and his hive break into a cardio routine that is one part Jazzercise, one part line dancing. It’s old-school fitness—not the tiny tucks that I’ve learned in barre classes or the fluid movements of yoga. It’s kicks, steps, and hops—and it’s fun AF. The playlist is everything from disco to David Bowie. During songs, the senior firecracker darts out of the room for a snappy accessory change and quickly reappears—trotting out on a stick pony to “Back in the Saddle Again.” A Broadway number about Paris calls for a fetching lace Eiffel Tower hat.

We only wish we could go about our day with a fraction of the enthusiasm that Richard Simmons has about aerobics. But there comes a time in every ’70s and ’80s workout star’s career to hang up the tank top and short shorts.

Richard Simmons’s namesake Slimmons studio in Beverly Hills will be shutting down next month. The studio, which originally opened in 1974, will host its last enthusiastic workout class on November 19, according to TMZ.

Simmons has slipped out of the spotlight in the last couple of years, prompting a swirl of rumors to arise. But the Sweatin’ to the Oldies star had long maintained an active presence at Slimmons. He was known to show up to classes in costume—everything from KISS makeup to a glam aerobics version of Black Swan—and brought a wickedly joyous attitude in his wake.

Simmons took to Facebook over the weekend to address news of the closure and had this to say:

Some of you may have heard that Slimmons will close next month. While it is true, it has been an amazing part of my life to teach, meet and support people from all over the world. I want to thank everyone who has come through those studio doors to laugh, cry and sweat with me! Remember to keep sweatin’, keep movin’ and most importantly go out and Vote! Love Richard xo

It’s hard to overstate that shared experience of sweat and tears. After each class that Simmons instructed, there’d be a general stampede to take photos with him, and he’d patiently strike the fiercest pose possible for each and every person.

Slimmons may be closing, but at least we still decades of dance videos to watch.

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Mr. Taberski spends much of the podcast attempting to justify his invasions. Little details — like the fact that Mr. Simmons called in to “Today” instead of appearing on video — are used to rationalize the project. “Why wouldn’t he want to be seen?” Mr. Taberski asks, then conjures the image of “a kidnapper holding a gun to his head.” The implication: Mr. Taberski will rest only when Mr. Simmons is fully exposed.

Mr. Taberski told The New York Times that the podcast “was coming from a place of love and coming from a place of real concern.” In Episode 2, Mr. Taberski takes listeners on a drive up to Mr. Simmons’s gated home for what he half-seriously calls a “stakeout.” “I don’t want him to feel like I’m invading his privacy,” Mr. Taberski says. “On the other hand, I’m Richard’s friend.”

Is this what friends do? Turn their loved one’s personal crisis into a fun mystery investigation and record it for a hit podcast? (It has topped the iTunes podcast charts for four straight weeks.) Despite his claims, Mr. Taberski is not principally a “friend” to Mr. Simmons. In the podcast, he presents himself as a regular at Slimmons Studio who became friendly with the instructor, but really he was always a documentarian circling a sensational subject. (Talk of a film documentary dissolved when Mr. Simmons cut off contact with Mr. Taberski.)

The relationship between journalists and subjects shouldn’t be confused with friendship. Journalists have power over their subjects and a responsibility to try to minimize harm. But Mr. Taberski leverages his claim to friendship to reverse the equation, arguing instead that it’s Mr. Simmons who has the responsibility to speak to him, and to explain himself to his former acquaintances and fans. He compares Mr. Simmons’s relationship to them to the responsibilities of a licensed therapist. Mr. Taberski says he took care to ask Mr. Simmons’s manager “if there was something serious going on, like illness, so I could just let it be.” But is depression not an illness? Is a person’s gender identity not sufficiently serious to leave alone? Having decided that Mr. Simmons’s reasons for withdrawal are not “serious,” Mr. Taberski feels freer to pursue the guy.

“Missing Richard Simmons” speaks to both the possibilities and the limits of the emerging prestige podcast form. Many of the podcast’s tropes — the mystery framing, the crowdsourcing of clues from the audience and a format that focuses on the narrator as much as his subject — are borrowed directly from “Serial.” By turning a journalist into a friend and casting a man’s personal life as a mystery, “Missing Richard Simmons” has retooled the stale Hollywood documentary as an addictive media sensation. But it’s also turned it into a morally suspect exercise: An invasion of privacy masquerading as a love letter. Mr. Simmons is a public figure, and that gives journalists a lot of latitude to pry. But a friend who claims to want to help Mr. Simmons should probably just leave him alone.

Exercise guru richard simmons

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