When the Podcast Missing Richard Simmons dropped on Feb. 15 — barely a month ago — it landed precisely on the third anniversary of the last time the guru of fitness and self-love had been seen in public. He had called into the Today Show a few months back, he had posted items (apparently) on social media, and some of his closest colleagues had said they had seen him in person and he seemed “fine.” But the mystery remained: Why had someone famous for nearly 40 years for getting intimately involved in the lives of his followers — a man who had developed a cult where a hug was more effective than a criticism, where he continued to teach his regularly aerobics class in Beverly Hills, open to anyone — why had he just disappeared? No “thank you for your support, I’ve decided to retire” tweet… no “I’m closing my studio and everyone is invited to sign up for their last class with me” sign outside Slimmins… not even, it turned out, a phone call to many of his dearest friends, nor press release from his management explaining himself. He ghosted us, and one of his friends — gay filmmaker and novice Podcaster Dan Taberski — set about with Missing Richard Simmons to figure it out.
It attracted my attention, in no small part, because I have recently written a piece about my ex, who has also vanished without a trace. Taberski and I wanted to know the same thing: Was this person alive? Lucid? Safe? Healthy? Or had he just grown tired of us — of the world — for his own reasons and walked back into the shadows. Had be pulled a Greta Garbo: He just vanted to be let alone.
The Podcast was always planned for six weekly episodes, and according to Taberski, he started not knowing where he would finish. But each Wednesday for five weeks, we have waited to hear what he had unearthed, from claims of elder abuse (Simmons is now 68) to stories he had grown a beard a la Howard Hughes (could Mason jars or urine be far behind?) to worries over suicidal depression after the death of his beloved Dalmatians.
I had planned to write a post this morning teasing the finale, which was set to drop tomorrow. But then Taberski snookered us all, and the final episode of MRS came out last night, nearly 48 hours early. Taberski did it, he said, because of “developments” that made it important to get out there asap.
And… and…? Well, that’s the way a Podcast ends: Not with a bang, but with a whimper.
Nothing really new in the finale. No confessional face-to-face with Richard. No stunning reveal that he has transitioned into a female (I have posited, jokingly, that he had secretly become Kellyanne Conway). No sad, grainy photo that revealed he was on his death-bed. Nope. Taberski concluded that Richard had simply decided he had spent enough time in the spotlight and wanted to be out of it. Entirely. Without explanation. He’d given enough of himself.
It was not a disappointment to hear that, but you can’t call it wholly satisfying, either. We love a mystery, but we also love the witness-stand-confession, the “A-ha!’ moment, the Bond villain summary. Real life isn’t so tidy, especially when you start in the middle with nothing more than a microphone and your curiosity.
Richard Simmons is a private citizen now, no explanation required. Don’t like it? Well, go sweatin’ to the oldies and get over it.