What Led To Richard Simmons’ Retreat From Public Life?

Richard Simmons has been a flamboyant fitness guru for over 40 years. He cut off all contact with the world in 2014, leading to police investigations. Read the reasons for his disappearance. But first, what did he use to be like?

Fight With David Letterman

Simmons was a regular on the Late Show with David Letterman. Apparently Letterman was “very standoffish” to the fitness guru. Their relationship got worse after Letterman sprayed Richard with a fire extinguisher, giving Simmons an extreme asthma attack. Simmons refused to be a guest for six years after that.


Almost Died From Being Overweight

Although he is a fitness inspiration for millions of people, Simmons started his life overeating to the point where he was horribly ashamed of himself and was bullied constantly. He weighed a whopping 268 pounds. To combat this, Richard took unhealthy, drastic measures; he would starve himself, vomit, and take diet pills. After only 2 months, he was 119 pounds. This rapid, unsteady weight loss got him in the hospital. A nurse there changed his life asking, “do you want to live, or do you want to die?”

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Kid In A Candy Shop

Why did Richard get so unfit in the first place? He was, quite literally, a kid in a candy shop: his first job was at Leah’s in New Orleans, a praline shop. With the sugary, creamy snacks all around, Simmons could not help himself. Honestly, who could? Home was also no help to his gut, as his family had three refrigerators that were always full of food. Also, on the way to school, he would sometimes stop at five restaurants on the way to eat at each one!


Dolphin Shorts

To describe Richard, people would say, “energetic” or “empathetic,” but nothing describes Simmons more accurately than “flamboyant.” His whole personality shines through when you consider his trademark outfit: extremely short dolphin shorts, complete with slits and stripes, and loud, custom-designed tank tops, whose Swarovski crystals glimmer as he hops around doing aerobics. His personality literally shone through his outfits, which it was so alarming when two months after his disappearance, he was posting very uncharacteristic, dark messages on his website’s chatroom.


Portly Priest

The last thing you’d think Simmons would be interested in is religion. Strangely enough, Richard was training to be a priest at one point, attending seminary for a year and nine months! Although he said the best part of seminary was that the robes dressed and hid his 200-plus-pound frame well, the food was terrible in the religious school. Eventually, Simmons said his “pulpit could be bigger,” and that he could “help God and help the world by doing what [he] really wanted to do.”


Mother Was A Fan Dancer

Richard has never been shy to be open with his fans emotionally, but also physically. There was one photo shoot where Richard is unclad and laying amongst a medley of vegetables, with lettuce leaves providing the only cover for his body. Perhaps he was open because his mother was a fan dancer, and generally, they are dressed very skimpily, using only fans made of ostrich feathers to cover themselves. Simmons’ father was also a performer, as a club MC. Perhaps this gave Richard his seemingly innate sense of showmanship.


Built An Incredibly Profitable Empire

Just because Simmons would rather short-shorts and a tank top over the woolen slacks and tie of a businessperson does not mean that he doesn’t know how to make money. Once he lost his childhood weight, he went on to teach others to do so at a chain of gyms, with exercise videos, and other products. Just for an idea of just how much he made, from his first three videos (out of the 60+ he has made) he made $200 million! Don’t judge a book by its cover.


Barbra Streisand

Richard admires Barbra Streisand so much that he has done a couple of kinda crazy things to show it. First off, he had a $10,000 replica doll of her made, saying, “having a doll of Barbra is probably the closest I’ll come to being alone with her.” Simmons also went to Tiffany’s and bought a $100,000 ring for Streisand, just because he found her to be inspiring. Barbra sent it back, because it was just too much. The kicker? Simmons does not know her personally at all.

barbra steisand doll

A Typical Slimmons Class

Richard opened a gym in Los Angeles that was known as Slimmons, after his last name. He always charged just $12 a class, and he personally taught there for 40 years until his sudden disappearance in 2014. A class at Slimmons is like nothing you’ve seen before. Not only is there his classic aerobic, dancing exercise, but also a confessional speech by Simmons, where he regularly breaks down into tears. It’s almost a post-modern performance piece. When Richard stopped coming after 40 years, people were rightfully worried.


Sweatin’ To The Oldies Inclusion

The most famous video series Simmons ever put out was called Sweatin’ To The Oldies. These tapes featured Simmons plus backup dancers giving an overflow of energy to the viewer. The most distinct, amazing thing about Sweatin’ (and all his videos) is that he had men and women of all shapes and sizes exercise with him on camera. Compared to other videos, where all the backup dancers were chiseled and fit, Simmons made his videos inclusive, as not to intimidate those who felt hopeless about weight loss.


Personal Touches

Richard is a natural empath, meaning he feels the emotions of other strongly. He personally kept in contact with thousands of people who he just met once, to help them on their weight loss journey. Once, in Nebraska, he briefly met a 450 pound woman, and after speaking with her, called her every Sunday (for free), until she lost 200 pounds. Simmons always reached out to the most isolated folks, and gave them the love and support they needed. That’s why his disappearance was utterly jarring for so many.


Personal Touches II

Richard’s kindness and connection to thousands was endless (until he vanished). When a Slimmons regular sent her daughter off to camp, Richard sent the pre-teen a letter with some cash, like he was a family member. He once met a fan who he wanted to help lose weight, but never got her contact information, so he paid the local paper to put out a message to her on the front page! When a certain older Slimmons regular could not physically get to his gym, he drove her personally.

Mr. Simmons Goes To Washington

Since Richard was so overweight, he knew what it was like to be bullied as a child. As a result, Richard tried very hard to make sure kids got enough exercise. In a strange meeting of pilates and politician, Simmons testified before Congress. Simmons was concerned that then-President Bush’s No Child Left Behind Act was taking away too much of kids’ PE time. He begged that Congress vote to help American kids get fit instead of “diabetic … lazy … and depressed,” due to their obesity.

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General Hospital

Simmons has always been a showman. As a young adult living in Italy, he was cast as an extra legendary Italian film director Federico Fellini’s movies Satyricon and I Clowns. Later in his life, Simmons got a role on one of the biggest soap operas, General Hospital. He played himself over a four-year period in a recurring role. Richard also did a voice-over for Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer: The Movie, and has appeared as a guest on Saturday Night Live and Whose Line Is It Anyway?

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Most Accessible Celebrity Of All Time

Before February 2014, Richard Simmons could be seen during class time for just $12 at his workout studio Slimmons. Also, he would regularly greet fans who came by his house as part of a Hollywood celebrity tour. The tour guides could almost guarantee that Richard would come bounding out of the house to say hi to the Los Angeles tourists. In one instance of extreme dedication, Simmons stuck around to take photos with fans after a car ran over his foot and he needed serious medical attention!


Cruise To Lose

Three-hundred folks at a time would sign up to take a ride on a ship for Simmons’ annual Cruise To Lose event. Like a bizarre version of Noah’s Ark, folks who were not happy with their bodies would come to be saved by Richard. They would exercise on the boat daily, and have abundant healthy food available to eat for the duration of the cruise. Most importantly, this cruise was an event where some obese people could get a hug from Richard, giving them some badly-needed love.

cruise to lose

Full Name

Simmons’ name on his birth certificate is Milton Teagle Simmons. When he was growing up, people would call him Dickie. Eventually, that morphed into Richard. In an interview with the Tampa Bay Times, Richard explained that his birth name was due to a deal made with a rich uncle. If Richard was to be named after his uncle, it was promised that his college education would be paid for. So being named “Milton Teagle” was just a solid investment which paid off.

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Emmy Winner

Oftentimes, Richard is the butt of people’s jokes, as his earnestness, flamboyance, and flashy outfits are uncommon, to say the least. However, the tables were turned when he got his own talk show, The Richard Simmons Show, a variety show which had a successful four-year run. The show featured Richard doing interviews, cooking healthy food, and of course, exercising slash dancing with a group of followers. His jokes and gags during the show were so good, that he won a Daytime Emmy Award for Outstanding Talk Show.


Halloween Costume

Like Groucho Marx’s glasses, mustache, and cigar, or Abraham Lincoln’s top hat, Richard Simmons’ dolphin shorts, tank top, and curly afro have become iconic. These items are also pretty easy to find, so dressing up as Richard Simmons for Halloween has been a last-minute costume for many people, as well as popular in the DIY community. Although it would be hard to find a tank top that is actually studded with crystals, wearing a regular tank top and exuding a lot of energy makes the costume work.



Richard has been hiding in his home for years now, not speaking to anyone. Some of the rare times he leaves the house was when 911 was called. These were health issues, but police have come to his house twice regarding potential crimes. In June 2016, Richard was hospitalized for what TMZ calls, “bizarre behavior.” After being observed, he was released, only to be hospitalized again in 2017 for what his publicist said was, “severe indigestion.” But were these vague diagnoses cover-ups?


Teresa Reveles

To understand why Richard may have disappeared, you need to know about Teresa Reveles, Simmons’ housekeeper. Richard is extremely close to her, saying, “she’s been with me for 30 years. It’s almost like we’re a married couple.” They are so close that Simmons bought her a Mercedes. But a former associate of Richards claims that Teresa has taken over Simmons’ life. The shocking accusation of how the 65-year-old Mexican woman was allegedly keeping Richard under her thumb was unbelievable to most.

teresa and simmons


Since Richard is extremely flamboyant, and he did allegedly ask that Slimmons male customers go shirtless during workouts, there have been many allegations that Richard is a homosexual. When asked about it, he deflects, trying to steer the topic away from relationships. When addressing the subject, he said that, “[He doesn’t] have a lot to offer to one person. [He has] a lot to offer to a lot of people.” This rings true, but people tend to draw their own conclusions about Richard’s preferences.

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Slimmons Closes Its Doors

In February 2014, something happened at Slimmons that never happened before. Richard did not show up. And again the next week, and the next week, he was absent. The regulars were baffled, until a sign went up explaining that Richard was having knee issues and would be back next month, but he never showed. This was the beginning of Simmons’ disappearance from the public eye, and from contact with any of his thousands of friends. Slimmons closed its doors after over 40 years in 2016, and Richard still did not show!

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One of the first theories that emerged explaining Richard’s disappearance had to do with his dogs. Richard at one point owned an immense amount of dogs: eight dalmatians! The pack of dogs has sadly dwindled to one last dalmatian named Hattie. Two months into Richard’s retreat from society, in April 2014, Hattie sadly had to be put down at the age of 17. A former associate, Mauro Oliveira, alleges that may have contributed to a mental breakdown. Mauro also makes a far-fetched claim about housekeeper Teresa Reveles.



Former associate Mauro Oliveira makes the claim that Richard Simmons has been kept hostage by Teresa Reveles, his 65-year-old housekeeper. Since Richard became reclusive in 2014, a new addition was made to his Los Angeles mansion: a six-foot-high fence, that does not seem to have a buzzer. Are these prison walls? Oliveira says they are. Mauro also says that this in-effect kidnapping is only possible because Teresa is using black magic and witchcraft to control Richard. Simmons denied these claims over the phone.


Kidnapped? Part II

Since Richard only called (with no video) to deny the claims that he was kidnapped and under a spell, it is thought that he perhaps was only saying so under duress. Mauro claims that Richard answered “yes,” to him when asked if Teresa was controlling him. In a bizarre turn of events, Mauro has e-published a 50-page children’s fairy tale called King Rich & the Evil Witch, whose thinly-veiled plot describes King Rich’s (Richard’s) struggle against Witch Boreza (Teresa). Sounds outlandish, but the police got concerned.


LAPD Investigates

An anonymous message sent to the Los Angeles County’s District Attorney’s Office alleged that Simmons was a victim of elder abuse, as he was 66 at the time the letter was sent. The police took the allegation seriously and sent the Elder Abuse Unit to Simmons’ home. They found him fully-bearded, and he said he was fine, although he did want to, “spend time with [himself].” Simmons did miss his good friend Joan Rivers’ funeral, which is super uncharacteristic of Richard.


Enshrouded In Mystery

Richard has clearly gone out of his way to avoid the public. After he was released from the hospital for his mysterious bout of indigestion, he went above and beyond to avoid the paparazzi who had gathered outside his house. After the 15 minute drive, he sat in the driveway of his house, waiting for people to help him block the photographers. Eventually, LAPD officers, his manager, and housekeeper Teresa Reveles helped cover Simmons with a blanket, so all the paparazzi could see was his signature New Balance sneakers.

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Appeals To The Masses

Simmons had his libel lawsuit against the National Enquirer thrown out of court, as the Judge ruled that being labeled as transgender is not inherently offensive on its own. In his own words, the Judge said that “hatred, contempt or ridicule,” is not guaranteed simply by being transgender.” He continued to say that being transgender, “may be held in contempt by a portion of the population, [but] the court will not validate those prejudices by legally recognizing them. Simmons is planning to appeal the ruling.


Insult To Injury

It was devastating to Richard Simmons as well as members of the transgender community to have their struggles trivialized in the courtroom. Transgender folks are currently being discriminated against in the military, and much controversy exists surrounding the use of gendered bathrooms. Even though Simmons was feeling defeated, he just got another slap in the face. The court has ordered Richard to pay the legal fees and court fees of the National Enquirer, which just adds salt to his wounds.


Mile-high Madness

Instead of being boring like many other airlines, Air New Zealand decided to make a fun twist on their in-flight safety video. Their safety video starts out as normal, with the cabin crew greeting the guest, but then out of nowhere, Richard Simmons pops out in full exercise gear, teaching passengers the safety procedures as if it’s one of his famous workout videos. “Let’s stretch it out and lose that baggage!” Simmons exclaims, as headband-wearing dancers show where to store baggage. How exciting!

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Flying With The Oldies

The Air New Zealand safety video is not the only time Richard made headlines for being on a plane. On a flight from Los Angeles to Kansas City, the good old, gregarious Simmons was out to play. He was excitedly talking to the other Southwest passengers, taking selfies, and quizzing them on their celebrity crushes. Apparently, there was much talk about Richard Gere. According to one passenger, Simmons “took a basket of snacks from a flight attendant and wandered up and down the aisle, telling people to eat healthier.”

plane selfie

Hit Podcast

Since the sudden withdrawal of Simmons from society, people have wondered what is going on. Nobody wondered more than Dan Taberski, a Slimmons regular and filmmaker. He produced a podcast called Missing Richard Simmons that looks through the clues as to why Simmons may have secluded himself in his Los Angeles mansion. Although it was number one in popularity for many weeks, the New York Times calls the project “morally suspect,” as it turns a, “loved one’s personal crisis into a fun mystery investigation.”

richard simmons missing

Cookbooks And More

Beyond being a fitness guru, personality, and beacon of hope for many of the medically overweight, he can also call himself an author. Richard has published many books, including the autobiographical (and whimsically titled) Still Hungry–After All These Years. Simmons reveals everything about his life, right from the beginning when his mother went into labor with him at a Chinese restaurant. This book about himself compliments his collection of cookbooks, as well as his diet books, like the (also cleverly titled) Never-Say-Diet.


He Finally Speaks

To address the many tabloid theories about his disappearance and hospital visits, Richard broke his silence to finally address the public. The message was reassuring, but also strange. Simmons took to Facebook to say, “Aren’t you sick of hearing and reading about me?! LOL Well by now you know that I’m not ‘missing’, just a little under the weather.” Simmons says he is fine, but, “a little under the weather,” seems to be a vast understatement, as that does not warrant withdrawing from society.


Encouraging Newsletters

Richard is active online, helping people out with encouragement, letting them know in his enthusiastic, but no-nonsense fashion what sort of commitment is needed to lose weight. “You have to promise yourself that you will plan your meals, ones you can live with. You have to promise yourself you will get in that kitchen and cook,” he says in his newsletter before recommending a healthy recipe. Perhaps this activity on his site shows Richard is getting ready to re-engage with people.

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TV Star

Richard gets a lot of flack for his flamboyant ways, but at the end of the day, people love his unending energy and want to see him in the spotlight. That is why he has been featured in so many TV programs and commercials. Not only has he been featured as a workout instructor on shows like Extreme Weight Loss, but he has also been seen alongside Wayne Brady on Whose Line Is It Anyway? as a guest performer. This fits for someone who, “consider [himself] a court jester.”

wayne brady

Transgender Allegations

In 2016, The National Enquirer published this shocking headline on its front page: “RICHARD SIMMONS: HE’S NOW A WOMAN!” The article claimed that after having reassignment surgery Simmons was, “living as a gal named Fiona.” While it’s no secret that Simmons liked to dress in clothing that females generally wear, Simmons denied the claim that he was transitioning. Richard filed a lawsuit against the owners of the Enquirer. Judge Gregory Keosian may throw out the case as saying someone is transgender is not inherently offensive on its own.


Knee Issues

Although the official reason Richard had not taught classes at Slimmons was that he sustained a recent knee surgery, it does not explain the whole story being his complete withdrawal from society, and radio silence to thousands of friends. According to the LAPD, he did appear to have a limp when they investigated his home for elder abuse. On the other hand, Simmons claimed he exercised daily in his home gym. It’s possible he is simply depressed because his injury is keeping him from exercising at full capacity.


Doesn’t Owe Us

Richard Simmons truly touched many people. He gave them hope and personalized attention that even the most empathetic of people could not live up to. Since he was such a light in the lives of many, when he retreated, everyone felt a loss. Willam Belli, a friend of Richard’s, says that Simmons does not owe the public anything. “He’s allowed to go away,” Belli says. Richard doesn’t owe anyone anything. Belli says to those who feel a void: “how can you lose what you’ve never owned?”