It might be a bit early to write this Pod Nod, but I’m already engrossed in Missing Richard Simmons. That’s right, you heard it here first. We’re breaking the news on your newest obsession. Missing Richard Simmons is the best podcast to happen since Serial Season One. Only two episodes are out, but I predict this podcast will be your newest obsession.
Produced by Dan Teberski, a former producer at The Daily Show and friend of Richard Simmons, the show delves deep into the cultural phenomenon that was Richard Simmons and his workout empire. For many millennials, Richard Simmons was someone we saw on our mom’s afternoon talk show. As Terberski says, he’s become a Halloween costume. And he’s not wrong, my best friend literally dressed up as Richard Simmons for Halloween. I thought he was dead. But Terberski not only brings Richard Simmons back to life but inspires us to root for this flamboyant-fitness-guru-turned-Brian-Wilson-level recluse.
Episode One, “Where’s Richard,” focuses on Richard’s relationship with his following and his fans. Richard taught a fitness class for over 40 years at his one-room studio called Slimmons. Terberski met Richard at Slimmons, and worked out there for a year. He became friends with Simmons, visiting him at his house often and having dinner with him.
Then, on Feb 15th, 2014, Richard Simmons just disappears. He stops showing up to his class. He stops communicating with pretty much everyone: friends, employees, and fans. As Taberski says “Richard Simmons ghosted the world.” Taberski interviews a woman in Nebraska who Richard called weekly for years. She lost over 100 lbs with his long-distance guidance. Taberski interviews the Sklar Brothers — comedians and podcasters themselves — and they discuss a dark, lonely side to Richard, one they witnessed after the mic turned off.
In Episode 2, “Stakeout”, Taberski interviews devotees of Simmons’s class, including Richard’s “second-mother” Gigi and drag queen Willem Belli. Yes, that Willem, of RuPaul’s Drag Race infamy. At one point, Taberski even stakes out Richard’s house for answers, and from what I can tell, it won’t be the last time.
Dave Garcia, who has a blog called Keep It Up Dave, is interviewed on both episodes. He also wrote a blog post about Taberski and his interview for this podcast. He says what many listeners are probably curious about: what are Taberski’s intentions?
This podcast is intimate. We’re following this case, in real time, and sometimes it feels invasive. If Richard Simmons actually does want to be left alone, and if he ghosted Taberski after discussions of a documentary, then maybe we should just all respect his privacy.
The interviews with friends and former employees tell a side of Richard that we don’t usually see, the side that isn’t loud and outrageous. A man who seems to just be flamboyant might have been carefully curating his image. And for Taberski to interview people who might blow that image to bits can definitely feel squicky. Especially since all of this is (probably) done without Simmons’ consent. But Dave Garcia believes that Taberski really is trying to find Richard, to help him, and to let him know that he’s loved.
With only two episodes out, it’s hard to tell where exactly this podcast will go. It’s a rabbit hole and one that is fascinating to jump down. The twists and turns are unexpected, the theories abound. Was it a bum knee, a contentious lover, or an evil housekeeper? Has Richard Simmons gone full Grey Gardens?
If you chose to listen, you will be taken down a road that none of us know where it will lead, not even Taberski. He’s even got a voicemail set up for people who might have insight into Simmon’s disappearance. The ending could be unsatisfying, or it could be Simmon’s salvation. Either way, I’m in it for the long haul.
The interviews from Richard, whether it is fans, David Letterman, or the Sklar Brothers.
The theories, and the promise of more bizarre twists and turns.
The concerns of Richards friends, including Dan.
Remember what Richard would say, “Sweating is fat crying.”