Longtime fitness guru Richard Simmons has gotten huge publicity lately for doing….nothing.
During the 1980s and 90s he was a constant presence on TV. He had his own daily show for a while, and later was a frequent guest with Letterman, Leno and Regis. Attired in a sparkly tank top and short shorts, he shared his own weight loss story, and encouraged millions of Americans to sweat to the oldies.
Then, he just disappeared. No one has seen him in public since 2014. His absence from the public eye has inspired much speculation, a popular podcast, and a recent People magazine cover story.
Some media types say, “Give the man his privacy,” while others believe he owes his fans an explanation. Is he ill? Is he a prisoner in his own home? Has he undergone some sort of transformation?
Those questions have gone unanswered, although a police detective has done a wellness check, and told reporters that Simmons is alive and well. Those close to him say he simply got tired of all the hoopla, and has chosen to lead a quiet life.
In all honesty, most entertainers don’t abandon the spotlight without a struggle. If their health is good, and they can still command big bucks for personal appearances, they keep going and going. Bob Hope plugged away well into his 90s, even though he had gradually lost his sight. George Burns was telling jokes until he died at the age of 100 (I always knew those cigars would kill him).
Frank Sinatra became the butt of jokes for a seemingly endless series of farewell tours. Cher is doing the same thing. Chattanooga’s Riverbend Festival has hosted a long line of aging rock and country stars, some of whom, like Little Richard, were barely able to make it to the Coca Cola stage. Chuck Berry announced in February he was releasing a new album, and died a few days later at the age of 90.
Maybe Richard Simmons doesn’t want fans to see him get old. Maybe, like Johnny Carson, he decided enough was enough. Carson, to everyone’s surprise, kept his promise to stay out of the public eye after he stepped down from the Tonight Show.
But Simmons’ silence on his abrupt disappearance has only fueled the speculation. He hasn’t tweeted, he hasn’t issued a press release, and some fans are disappointed he hasn’t posted a message on Facebook saying something like, “Thanks for your support, I have retired, and I love and appreciate you all.”
The silence has been surprising from someone who always had so much to say. On September 4th and 5th in 1998, he visited Chattanooga. He held a Friday workout at the Y, and hosted a Saturday public appearance at Hamilton Place Mall.
We were fortunate to have him on Channel 3’s “Live at 5:30” program on that Friday evening, and I published a photo of him with Cindy Sexton and me in my “Chattanooga Radio and Television” book. Several people asked me if I had video of that show, and I had to tell them no.
Fortunately, a few weeks ago, my friend Lee Hope came through with the video. Lee was a director at Channel 3 in 1998, and has since gone on to bigger and better things at WBBM-TV (CBS) in Chicago. Lee took me to lunch recently, and surprised me with the video of Richard Simmons’ appearance on our newscast. Cindy and I, along with our entire crew, have fond memories of that day. Richard was in top form, bubbling over with enthusiasm, throwing our scripts in the air, massaging our feet, and spreading his special brand of joy.
Thanks to Lee Hope, I’m happy to share Richard’s visit with you here (in two parts). It has not been seen in almost 19 years. Enjoy!