Richard Simmons is no longer sweatin’ to the oldies (in public, anyway) and his abrupt retreat from the spotlight has left his many fans, friends and students asking why. Now, a new weekly podcast, "Missing Richard Simmons" by First Look Media, is aiming to answer that question. The podcast was created by Dan Taberski, a former producer on The Daily Show With Jon Stewart, as well as a former student of Simmons’ now-closed Beverly Hills fitness studio, Slimmons.
Taberski, who started taking Simmons’ workout classes in 2012, tells Us Weekly that he originally started out doing a different sort of project with the workout guru. “Before Richard disappeared, I wanted to make a documentary about him and his class,” Taberski says. "I wanted to do a rock-style documentary about him. I had even shot some footage.” Explaining further, the producer says, "I thought he was fascinating and I don’t think people realize how interesting and how edgy and complicated of a guy he is. And I wanted to bring that out. When he disappeared, it just became a story that I couldn’t let go.”
Taberski tells Us that getting Simmons’ confidants to participate was key to his project: “If you just have a microphone, I think people are much more open to talk. There’s something about a camera that’s really daunting to people,” he says. "I’ve talked to dozens and dozens of people and it’s been a fascinating project.”
Simmons, 68, retreated completely from the public eye in 2014 and reportedly ceased communication with everyone in his personal life, including longtime friends and employees. His sudden seclusion spurred rumors that he was being held hostage by his housekeeper and then that he was transitioning to a woman, both of which Simmons has since denied. “Some tabloids have recently falsely reported that I am transitioning.” Simmons wrote in a June 2016 statement. "In response, I feel compelled to set the record straight and refute these lies. Although I am not transitioning, I have and always will be supportive of those who are going through their journey."
In November 2016, Simmons closed his workout studio after 42 years of business. In a heartfelt message on Facebook, the health guru wrote, "I am finally taking my own advice. I am being kind to myself, and putting myself first. I am making changes and taking time to do the things I want to do. Please know that I am in good health and I am happy. No one has ever been able to tell me what to do and the same is true today. I am still independent, determined and opinionated. I simply am making a new beginning for myself — quietly and in my very own special way."
Taberski, who not only took Simmons’ classes but also considered the exercise expert a personal friend, says his intentions with the podcast are honorable. He explains, "I think he’s an important guy and I think people forgot that. I’d like to talk to him and hopefully find out why he would spend 40 years of his life doing this work and then stop so suddenly. I think these are questions worth asking."
Without giving away too much of what listeners can look forward to hearing in the podcast, the producer confirms that he has not yet personally gotten in touch with Simmons — but he still has hope that he will. "It is not done,” says Taberski. "It’s an open-ended project.” And as for what he’s uncovered in his search for the reclusive icon thus far, Taberski says he’s been “very surprised” at some of his new findings. But is he any closer to getting answers? Taberski doesn’t want to give it away just yet. “I have a main working theory that I’ll explain in the podcast but I don’t want to say what it is yet. But there’s a lot of theories out there and I think they are all just starting points.”
At the end of the day, Taberski says he just misses his friend, who told the Today show in a 2016 phone call that he was “fine" and “just wanted to be a little bit of a loner for a while.” Says the producer, “A big part of what we’re doing is that we hope that the publicity we get from doing the podcast will help convince him to talk to me, and bring him out.” Taberski also emphasizes that he has every intention of honoring Simmons’ wishes. "I’m not trying to drag him out — if he wants to retire, god bless him. If anyone deserves retirement and the gold watch and the whole shebang, it’s him.”
Taberski acknowledges the “thousands and thousands” of lives Simmons saved through helping people get healthy via his workout videos, books, classes and the personal phone calls he’d make and emails he’d write to fans who were suffering and in need of a little encouragement. "He’s lived an interesting, amazing life, and it’s been fascinating to uncover just how complicated a guy he is.” says Taberski. “This podcast is a personal project for me, because I think he’s a superhero. He deserves all the respect and love and friendship in the world. I want him to know that, and I want him to know that we all know that, and I want everybody to know that.”
"Missing Richard Simmons" debuts February 15 — the third anniversary of Simmons’ disappearance (the guru didn’t show up to teach a regularly scheduled class on February 15, 2014, and never returned to his fitness studio again) — and will be available for free streaming via launch partner Stitcher, as well as iTunes, Google Play and Spotify.
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