"Missing Richard Simmons" podcast is fascinating, but borderline exploitative

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I want to talk about the “Missing Richard Simmons Podcast” which has recently shot to number one on iTunes but first — a story.

My mother's full-time job as a cocktail waitress in Atlantic City and a lack of siblings left my grandmother, my primary babysitter at the time, scrambling to keep a younger-me occupied. 

It was sometime in the summer of 1996 or 1997 that she ordered Richard Simmons' complete VHS collection of “Broadway Sweat.”

When my swing-set or Nickelodeon couldn't satiate my boredom, kicking my legs with Simmons to “Hello Dolly” always did the trick.

But I forgot about the fun summer I had with Simmons until the podcast's creator and host, Dan Taberski, brought the sequins-clad fitness guru back into my purview.

Taberski’s story weaves through Simmons' mysterious withdrawal from the limelight three years ago. The podcast, which is still ongoing, is peppered with heart-felt testimonies of friends and longtime clients who are equally perplexed by Simmons disappearance.

Undoubtedly, the stories paint a heart-wrenching picture of a kind Simmons who kept in touch with strangers across the nation who were struggling to lose weight, sometimes even calling them weekly, and devoting his life to helping others with weight loss. 

He's described as the kind of guy that rushes out of his mansion to greet Hollywood tour buses for endless selfies and still taught classes at his Beverly Hills “Slimmons” studio, which he opened well before "Sweatin' to the Oldies" and television appearances made him a millionaire. 

There’s also the story of a man falling apart — literally at the seams — as his hyper-sexualized, “Slimmons” classes would sometimes devolve into Simmons weeping in front of his regulars.

The podcast doesn’t fail to point out that Simmons big-personality has been the butt of celebrity jokes for well over two decades and his private-life revolved around his elderly Dalmatian and housekeeper of 30 years, Teresa Reveles.

For a moment, years ago, Taberski was let into Simmons' private circle after being invited to his house. Even then, Taberski said he had expressed an interest in doing a documentary about the “celebrity."

Taberski, too, was once a client, having found the “Slimmons” class in what sounds like a field-trip to what he expected to be a proverbial freak show, though he only tip-toes around admitting that.

He, likes others, describe being reeled in by Simmons eccentric orbit. He, like the others, seemed pulled into his wild rotation and in some ways, it’s hard not to picture them salivating over Simmons erratic, “hilarious” behaviors.

It’s not that the podcast isn’t brilliant. No doubt, it’s riveting and worth every second you listen to it — but there’s something terribly wrong here.

No, it’s not the maid, who others have claimed is holding Simmons hostage in his mansion. Even Taberski himself seems to be leaning that way.

It’s hard not to walk away from the four most recent episodes feeling a bit disturbed by the painstakingly obvious signs that there’s something wrong with Simmons.

And it comes from some of the most unlikely sources, ironically not his so called client “friends,” who could see from a mile away that this wasn’t a man who was doing well.

Obvious signs of depression aside, Simmons' life sounds like an endless cycle of exhausting, superficial human interaction. While Simmons is falling apart in front of his classes, the people who supposedly care about him are gleefully curling mini-weights and doing jumping jacks, watching the show.

If that's not troublesome, Simmons account of nearly killing himself through an eating disorder should be.

It’s just this reviewer's speculation, but it's unsettling to think that Simmons withdrawal from the limelight was a potent mix of depression and being sick of being a tragic clown for the public.

Friends and Taberski will insist this wasn't the case — that there's no way he would disappear without so much as an email.

But there's no doubt the Simmons gave everyone all that he had. And without any response to Taberski so far, maybe it's fair to ask if Simmons even wants to reemerge. 

If that's the case, it doesn't make it any less worrisome. 

The road to hell is sometimes paved with good intentions, so they say, so it's hard to juggle whether "Missing Richard Simmons" is accomplishing its goal of finding a friend they so dearly miss or exploiting a man who, quite frankly, might just need a break.

To keep digging, especially in light of the LAPD coming out to say that the star is fine after a recent house check, seems like this might be the perfect opportunity to have a "leave Brittany alone," movement.

The podcast has been, no doubt, fascinating, and every morsel of information about the inter workings of Simmons is worth savoring.

But if Taberski keeps facing more slammed doors in his face by those closest to Simmons, who he's trying to use to gain access to Simmons himself, it might be worth putting this "mystery," to bed. 

Is Stockton the answer to Atlantic City's problems?

Contact: 609-272-7217 

Twitter @acpressmruss 

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