When he was in full swing, Richard Simmons took over our TV sets and earned himself a forever spot in our hearts. The eccentric and energetic fitness guru helped thousands of Americans stay in shape and lose weight during the ’80s.
But in 2014, Richard Simmons abruptly retreated from public life and disappeared completely. Since then, there have been many speculations – with one theory crazier than the other.
However, there seems to be a simple answer to why Simmons has not been seen since 2014 -– and the real reason might surprise you…
Started out as a praline seller
The American fitness guru and television personality Richard Simmons was was born Milton Teagle Simmons on July 12, 1948.
He had a crippled leg and had to wear corrective shoes.
As a child, he grew up in the French Quarter in New Orleans together with his parents who were both involved in show business. His mother earned a living as a tap dancer in Bourbon Streets variety shows.
Growing up in the oldest neighborhood of New Orleans had its benefits if you were an outgoing child – which Richard certainly was. The bustling district was teeming with tourists, and Richard realized he could make a living by guiding tourists through St. Louis. Louis Cathedral and the Musee Conti wax museum. His first “gig” came when he sold pralines in the street corners of the French Quarter.
”I sold pralines, these little candies on the street corner to bring extra money in for my parents. And I would have to be cute and adorable and fun and sing and smile and they bought my candy. And I learned a long time ago that humor was just simply a gift and that if you made people happy it was certainly a lot better than making them sad. So I’ve always been that clown or court jester,” Richard said.
According to his childhood friends, Richard Simmons was a “hilarious” guy who always ran around joking with people.
You may not believe it, but Richard struggled overweight as a child. Unfortunately, the food culture of New Orleans was not to his advantage – there was plenty of fried food on every street corner in the French Quarter. When he was young, Richard ate nothing but fried food.
”I was completely obsessed with food. I began reading cookbooks when I was 6, because my father had hundreds of cookbooks in the kitchen. I was obsessed with cooking and tasting different recipes,” he told Men’s Health.
At age 15, he weighed 182 pounds, and when he graduated from the Catholic school Cor Jesu in the 1960s, she scale showed 270 pounds.
“I mean, I was mucho big. You know how they teach you early on that ‘Sticks and stones may break your bones, but words will never hurt you?’ Well that’s a lie,” Simmons told the New Orleans Times-Picayune in 1983.
Why did Richard Simmons change his name?
After graduating from Florida State University, Richard moved to Los Angeles in the 1970s. He found work as head waiter at a restaurant in Beverly Hills. By then, he had changed his name from Milton Teagle to Richard. But why?
”Well, you know, in the French Quarter (of New Orleans), they call me Dickie, so that was my name. Then, when I went to high school, it went to Richard. But I was named after a rich uncle … and he promised that if I had his name, I’d have a college education. And he did,” Simmons explained in 2008, in an interview with Tampa Bay Times.
Road to television stardom
After years of battling his weight, Simmons became very interested in fitness. After trying laxatives and all sorts of bizarre diets, Simmons finally took control over his body and mind. He began to live a more balanced life – where the main ingredients were exercise and moderate eating.
In the mid-’70s, he decided to spread his ideas and embarked on a fitness crusade. He founded “Slimmons” – a health club that focused on helping people with overweight. The club became an instant success and catapulted Richard to celebrity and television stardom.
He started making guest appearances in various tv programs, which led to Richard starring as himself in the soap opera “General Hospital”. The series aired for four years and made Richard a popular TV personality.
”I walked on that show and I must’ve been like an alien to them. But they were so kind and they really taught me a lot. And then meeting the General Hospital fans in different shopping malls around the United States, the whole experience was just mesmerizing to me. I couldn’t believe that all of these people would even come out and see me,” Richard told Men’s Health in 2012.
In the 1980s, he began hosting various tv shows on his own. The Richard Simmons Show became huge, and once again, the eccentric fitness guru focused on healthy eating, cooking, and exercise.
”I did that for five years and I loved it. I also did Here’s Richard, which was a night-time variety-type show. I think I did that in ’82 or ’83. And then there was Slim Cooking. And I did 31 infomercials,” Richard recalls.
Richard gained millions of fans and exercise enthusiasts adoring him because of his energy, charm, and inspiring manner. During the ’80s and ’90s, he was a regular guest on The Howard Stern Show, and he often showed up on David Letterman’s talk shows.
For a while, it seemed like Richard popped up everywhere. Many loved to see his happy face, his sparkling tank top, and his short-shorts.
“I receive 25,000 to 30,000 letters a day, and the reason I travel a lot is to meet these people, who are part of my family. I do not think of myself as a celebrity. I basically relate to people like myself,” Richard told People in 1981.
Richard Simmons hair and baldness
When looking at pictures of Richard Simmons, it’s hard to avoid noticing his characteristic, curly hair. Over the years, Richard often dyed his hair in crazy colors. But what is the truth behind his pseudo-afro?
Well, there is a story to tell here as well. In an interview with The Pantagraph in 2008, Richard revealed that the hair on his head is, in fact, the result of three ”horribly painful” hair transplants.
When he was 19, Richard experimented with many dangerous diets. Unfortunately, one of these crash diets had a disastrous effect: it made him bald. Because of this, he went under the knife. Surgeons had to place 4,000 follicles in his scalp to recover what was lost.
Richard opened up about this period in an interview with NPR.
”When I was 19, I starved for two and a half months and I lost 116 pounds and I almost died. And at that point in my life I had to have a rebirth. What does Richard Simmons want and how can he get healthy and continue to do two things: make people laugh and help people? Because that’s all I ever wanted to do in my life”.
Road to Capitol Hill
Richard’s weight-loss and fitness career took him to places he would never have dreamt of as a child. He was really passionate about helping and guiding people – something that he manifested in 2008 when he worked with politicians and supported a bill mandating non-competitive physical education in public schools.
In July 2008, Richard spoke up before a hearing in Congress and demanded the House Education and Labor Committee to expand physical education in public schools. Sporting a glittery tank top and rend-white striped shorts, he talked about his personal journey and urged the politicians to listen.
“Everyone is not a jock. Everyone cannot play sports. Everyone cannot run. But everyone can be fit. “When you’re feeling great about yourself, when you have self-esteem and self-respect for yourself, there isn’t nothing you can’t do,” Simmons said.
Private life, kids, and family
Despite all the years in the spotlight, unusually few details have been leaked about Richard Simmons’ private life. According to him, he has millions of fans – but not many genuine friends. Discussing his personal life is not something that Richard, a devoted Catholic, has been interested in because he did not think there was much to tell about it.
“I do not have a lot to offer to one person. I have a lot to offer to a lot of people,” Simmons told The Pantagraph in 2008.
In the same interview, Richard called himself a loner and said he lived in the Hollywood Hills with his Dalmatians, whom he named after various characters in the iconic movie “Gone With the Wind” (Scarlett, Pittypat, Melanie).
Richard never had any kids, and there have been many speculations on his love life. In 1997, actress Kathy Kinney suddenly claimed that Simmons was gay on the Rosie O’Donnell Show, which caused quite a stir. O’Donnell decided to cut to commercial, not addressing the claims.
”When Kathy Kinney came on my show and outed Richard Simmons, I didn’t try to “in” Richard Simmons. The gay community accused me of in-ing Richard Simmons, like I was trying to make people think that he was straight. I will tell you this: If Richard Simmons ever wants to discuss his private life with me on national TV, he’s welcome to do so. It is not anyone else’s right to do that before he decides it’s time. That’s the reason I said to Kathy Kinney, “We’ll be right back with a commercial.” I’m simply saying that that right belongs to him. [Loudly] And no matter what community you feel he’s a part of or what he represents to you, it is not as relevant as his own truth,” O’Donnell said later.
The disappearance of Richard Simmons
Since Richard Simmons left public life in early 2014, the mystery surrounding the health guru disappearance has intensified. According to Entertainment Tonight, Simmons was last seen in public during a fundraiser in California in January 2014.
After that, things became very quiet around the health guru.
In 2016, Simmons held his last workout at his gym, “Slimmons.” Shortly after that, the club closed its doors without any explanation.
In the end, however, a statement was released:
“In 1974, I opened Slimmons as a way to help people make positive changes in their lives by having fun while exercising. It was a place to make friends, listen to and learn from others, lose weight and gain confidence. These were all the reasons I went to Slimmons too!”
The reason for the closing was that Simmons had been hospitalized for severe dehydration, and the fitness star needed to take some time to “take care of himself.”
In recent years, there have been a lot of weird rumors about Simmons’ absence in public. First, someone claimed that Simmons had been locked up by his housekeeper, which forced Simmons to deny this crazy rumor in an interview with the Today Show.
The police also visited the fitness gurus’ home and testified that everything seemed under control. In a statement from the LAPD, the police said that Simmons is “perfectly fine” and that “right now he is doing what he wants to do, and it is his business.”
”Doing what he wants to do”
In 2017, Simmons suddenly posted a picture of himself on Facebook. He stated that he “is not missing” and was fine after alarming news that Simmons had been hospitalized for indigestion. However, some strange circumstances were surrounding the picture. The photograph was from 2013, which led to speculation about who actually had access to the account.
Richard’s brother, Lenny, has been protecting Richard and denied many rumors through the years. And if we listen to Lenny, we might approach the real reason we no longer see his brother.
“He’s doing what he wants to do, which is kick back and have a quiet life. He’s not angry with anybody. He just decided, ‘I’ve done it and I’m going to be quiet.’ For some reason he wants to be quiet. I do not understand it, but I have to respect it,” Lenny said in 2017.
Richard Simmons’ spokesman, Tommy Estey, has also provided us with valuable information regarding Simmons’s ”disappearance.”
“He’s helped millions of people lose millions of pounds. And for 40 years, he took care of everyone but himself.” Richard’s “nice guy persona” wasn’t just a persona. The man never had a notable public scandal, and he became renowned for his sincerity as he would spend hours upon hours every week personally calling and talking to those who struggled with getting healthy.
Today, Richard Simmons has turned 72 years old, and by all accounts, he now lives a quiet life, a kind of self-imposed exile from the media.
But in 2020, a small sign of life came from our dear exercise hero. Apparently, Simmons wanted to help people stay healthy and strong during the pandemic, so he started publishing training videos on his Youtube channel again. The training videos were recorded before Simmons decided to retire from public life. But hopefully, his inspiring videos can get more people to discover Richard’s energetic and motivational demeanor and encourage people to stay in shape.
“I am very excited that my groundbreaking fitness series of Sweatin’ to the Oldies still is so relevant and popular and I hope many new fans will discover these timeless classics,” Simmons told People.
Stay safe, Richard! You have always been a tremendous inspiration to us all, and I know you still have many fans who love to train with you. Although I never needed your exercise services, I watched your show, and I can tell you were an inspiration to many!