December 18, 2015

Richard Simmons: Former Fitness Guru Tries to Enjoy Retirement (Without Media)

For people who grew up in the 1980s, Richard Simmons was kind of a staple of daytime television, with his own syndicated TV show known as "The Richard Simmons Show" (which ran in syndication from 1980-1984; in 1981, the show was nominated for an Emmy Award) and all-too-frequent appearances on the daytime television circuit including various talk shows of the day such as those hosted by Phil Donahue, Mike Douglas, and Merv Griffin.  He also appeared on TV game shows like Hollywood Squares, he was on TV’s Circus of the Stars, and he even guest-starred on the top-rated soap opera “General Hospital” -- as himself!  He represented the idea that people could do pretty much what he did; lose weight (as a formerly obese guy) by using his self-help methods, and maybe feel good about themselves in the process.

1982 People Magazine Cover
Mr. Simmons was somewhat unusual during the era he was in his prime.  For example, his faith background was/is atypical.  His father was Episcopalian and his mother Jewish; but Simmons later converted to Catholicism for reasons that are unclear.  But the story he likes to tell is that he grew up in the French quarter of New Orleans (where he says lard was a food group and dessert was mandatory) and he weighed 268 pounds when he graduated high school.

After starting college at the University of Southwestern Louisiana, he later transferred to Florida State University. While enrolled there, he studied as an exchange student in Florence, Italy. He graduated with a BA in Art.  After graduation from college, he moved to New York City where he worked in advertising, as a waiter and for the Revlon and Coty cosmetics companies among other things.  In 1973, he then moved to Los Angeles, and his persona and his fitness business grew by filling a previously unmet need in the market, namely fitness for people who weren't already thin.  The now 67-year-old Beverly Hills fitness guru taught not only fitness, but also self-acceptance and personal empowerment.

Richard Simmons said in 2010 that he had kept off his own 100+ pound weight loss for 42 years, had been helping others lose weight for 35 years, and that during the course of his "fitness career" (as he calls it), he estimates that he helped humanity lose approximately 12,000,000 pounds (see the Dr. Oz story at for more).

Sweatin' to the Oldies
Mr. Simmons later rode a wave of VHS (and later still, DVD) home videos, perhaps most famously producing "Sweatin' to the Oldies" along with some of his peers like Jane Fonda whose workout videos were best-sellers back in the day, and even sold a direct-mail innovation called "Deal A Meal" which gave users a deck of special meal cards in which people would play cards representing things they eat throughout the day and when their hand had been fully played, their eating for the day was done.  In 2013, The New York Times observed (see for details) that Richard Simmons was known as many things: "... author, pop culture war horse, late-night talk show piƱata, dyed-in-the-wool eccentric, motivational speaker, survivor of nearly four decades in the spotlight."

However, in the article, the NYT also observed "Like a lot of older people in show business, Mr. Simmons has been kind of slow to fully grasp social media.  He got famous the old-fashioned way: he released VHS tapes and DVDs (65 in total), gave radio interviews and trotted the talk television circuit.

Hollywood does it quite a bit differently now.

The web is increasingly where new stars are minted and aging ones are rejuvenated. Mr. Simmons and his shtick haven’t changed, but the way that fan bases are cultivated has.

But if his [relatively] new William Morris Agency endeavor and his new social media managers have their way, he hopes to add another line to his voluminous resume: 'Internet star.'"

Indeed, until quite recently, Mr. Simmons had never completely disappeared (in spite of his age now making him eligible for both Social Security and Medicare) from the pop culture scene, and his relatively new online persona did bring the aging star back into the spotlight again, even if it wasn’t on syndicated or cable television as he was accustomed.  One of his first online videos (on YouTube) was known as “Hair Do” in which Mr. Simmons appeared -- in drag -- to promote himself in the daring new (to him) world of social media, and the new jam was all about hair, which ironically enough, Mr. Simmons seems to be losing these days!  Check it out below, or by visiting

Yet the reality is that Mr. Simmons, at age 67, is hardly the picture of the future anymore, or even the present.  He’s a picture of the past, in spite of how relevant that past may be today with American obesity levels now at record highs.  True, nostalgia is still a viable option, and although it's hard to analyze the profile of someone’s followers without data, at least a few are, well … older folks themselves.  However, that group is very, very large — Baby Boomers alone constitute one of the largest demographic cohorts now in existence.

The money that Mr. Simmons spent with the William Morris Agency seems to have helped him to accomplish at least some of what he was seeking; staying (at least somewhat) relevant with a newer audience (as of the date I am writing this posting, he counted more than 229,400 followers on his YouTube channel).  By adopting social media, he’s also managed to gain almost all of his new followers on Facebook, YouTube and Twitter, but beyond that, exercise classes at his Beverly Hills studio, which in recent years had seen a shortage of new patrons, are now filled again (he isn’t necessarily teaching the classes himself anymore, but more on that in a minute).  Even more important, social media seems to be a way for him to connect with a new audience, the Millennial population who never witnessed him in the early years on TV, as well as his loyal older fans, and in that regard he brings something valuable to social media, where he combines comic value with genuine values.

Interestingly, in June 2013, around the time of his social media launch reported by The New York Times, he abruptly stopped teaching classes personally at his Beverly Hills studio and he has been shunning public appearances.  Evidently, the Beverly Hills police conducted a welfare check at his home in January 2015 and they confirmed that he was perfectly fine — he was just taking a break from being a celebrity and enjoying the solitude.

"I just want to spend time with myself," he reportedly told them at the time. He said he keeps in touch with the people who matter most, and that the staff at his fitness studio are more than capable of running the show in his absence. "I don’t need to be there," he said.

He's "happily living life outside the public eye," the rep told TMZ (see for details on that), adding that Richard is working "behind the scenes" on charity projects and is committed to helping the "obese and overlooked."

Richard Simmons Today
Interestingly, in spite of avoiding public appearances (such as TV), his William Morris Agency investment is still being used.  Richard remains very active on social media even if he’s staying out of the limelight, he's Tweeting to people and commenting on and doing Facebook posts, with particular interest in people who are trying to do what he did: lose weight.  His online social media involvement takes place almost daily.

Just how relevant Mr. Simmons is online is unclear, he certainly isn't as big as some of the younger YouTube stars, for example, but the important take-away is that he, like many others, sees the future is online.  For example, before she passed away, comedienne Joan Rivers (see my post on her at for more) had her own YouTube channel (the archives are still available online) and a very entertaining YouTube show called "In Bed with Joan [Rivers]".  Mr. Simmons joined the ranks of other former stars who found new life on the internet, including sex guru (who once hosted a top-rated syndicated radio show, and later a television show) Dr. Ruth Westheimer (see, who now counts several hundred thousand followers of her own on her own YouTube channel (more on her some other day).

As for Richard Simmons, he seems to be trying to enjoy his retirement, although his presence on social media proves that he isn't quite ready to disappear completely.

Author P.S., October 21, 2016: People magazine, TMZ and other media outlets are reporting that Richard Simmons is closing his famed Beverly Hills exercise studio on November 19, 2016.  The studio first first opened in 1974.  Simmons confirmed news of the closing on Facebook and Twitter Friday writing, "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."  He concluded, "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"

Author P.S., March 1, 2017:  A new and popular podcast known as "Missing Richard Simmons" emerged by filmmaker Dan Taberski which chronicles how Richard Simmons seemingly disappeared, and what may have become of him.  Includes a lot of great interviews with friends of Richard Simmons, various audio clips of Richard Simmons' decades in the public spotlight, and more.  The podcast's website can be found at, on Apple iTunes its at, and on Google Play its at while the website contains a few other podcast platforms as well.

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