Milton Teagle Simmons
July 12, 1948
New Orleans, Louisiana, U.S.
|Alma mater||Florida State University (BA)|
Milton Teagle "Richard" Simmons (born July 12, 1948) is an American fitness personality and public figure, known for his eccentric, flamboyant, and energetic personality. He has promoted weight-loss programs, most prominently through his Sweatin' to the Oldies line of aerobics videos.
Simmons began his weight-loss career by opening his gym Slimmons in Beverly Hills, California, catering to the overweight, and he became widely known through exposure on television and through the popularity of his consumer products. He is often parodied and was a frequent guest of late-night television and radio talk shows, such as the Late Show with David Letterman and The Howard Stern Show.
He continued to promote health and exercise through a decades-long career, and later broadened his activities to include political activism – such as in 2008 in support of a bill mandating noncompetitive physical education in public schools as a part of the No Child Left Behind Act.
Simmons's most recent public appearances were in February 2014, and by 2016, speculation and expressions of concern about his well-being began to surface in the media. Both Simmons and his publicist said the concerns were unwarranted, as he simply chose to be less publicly visible.
Milton Teagle Simmons was born in New Orleans, Louisiana, on July 12, 1948, to Leonard Douglas Simmons, Sr., and Shirley May (née Satin). He was born to "show-business parents" and raised in the French Quarter of New Orleans. Simmons has an older brother, Leonard, Jr. Their father was raised Methodist and worked as a master of ceremonies and later in thrift stores, while their mother was Russian Jewish and was a traveling fan dancer and later a store cosmetics saleswoman.
Simmons later converted to Catholicism and attended Cor Jesu High School. He attended the University of Louisiana at Lafayette before graduating from Florida State University with a Bachelor of Arts in art.
He became obese during his early childhood and adolescence. He began to overeat and became overweight as early as the age of 4, and by the age of 5, he knew it was perceived negatively. At 15, he weighed 182 pounds (83 kg). As a young man, he considered being a priest. As a young adult art student, he had appeared among the "freak show" characters in the Fellini films Satyricon (1968) and The Clowns (1970), and he eventually reached a peak of 268 lb (122 kg).
In an interview with the Tampa Bay Times, Simmons explained he adopted the name Richard after an uncle who paid for his college tuition. His first job in New Orleans was as a child, selling pralines at Leah's Pralines.
Upon moving to Los Angeles in the 1970s, Simmons worked as the maître d'hôtel at Derek's, a restaurant in Beverly Hills.: 157 He developed an interest in fitness. Exercise studios of the day favored the already fit customer, so little help was available for those who needed to gain fitness from an otherwise unhealthy state. He established gyms, and his interest in fitness helped him lose 123 lb (56 kg).
He later opened his own exercise studio, originally called The Anatomy Asylum, where emphasis was placed on healthy eating in proper portions and enjoyable exercise in a supportive atmosphere. The business originally included a salad bar restaurant called Ruffage, a pun on the word roughage (dietary fiber), though it was eventually removed as the focus of The Anatomy Asylum shifted solely to exercise. Later renamed "Slimmons", the establishment continued operations in Beverly Hills and Simmons taught motivational classes and aerobics throughout the week. Slimmons closed in November 2016.
In 2010, Simmons stated he had kept off his own 100+ pound (45 kg) weight loss for 42 years, had been helping others lose weight for 35 years, and that in the course of his fitness career, had helped humanity lose approximately 12 million pounds (5.5 million kg). Simmons used the Internet as a method of outreach by running his own membership-based website and also has official pages on numerous social-networking sites, such as Facebook, Twitter, MySpace, and YouTube.
Simmons began to draw media attention due to the success of his health club that began with him on Real People, where he was shown at work. He introduced customers whom he had helped to lose weight. He later had guest roles on Battlestars, Body Language, Super Password, Win, Lose or Draw, Match Game (ABC), Price Is Right, $25,000 Pyramid, Hollywood Squares (syndicated), and Nickelodeon's Figure It Out.
Positive viewer reactions landed Simmons a recurring role as himself in General Hospital over a 4-year period. This, as well as being in shopping malls, where he taught exercise classes, led to further media attention. In the early 1980s, Simmons hosted two shows – Slim Cookin and the Emmy Award-winning talk show The Richard Simmons Show, in which he focused on personal health, fitness, exercise, and healthy cooking. The Richard Simmons Show drew thousands of exercise enthusiasts, including SAG/AFTRA actress Lucrecia Sarita Russo, who reportedly transported an entire bus filled with women from Pam's Figure Tique for a lively workout on the show.
In 1998, Simmons provided the voice of Boone in Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer: The Movie.
He featured as himself on numerous television series, including Whose Line Is It Anyway?, CHiPs, Saturday Night Live, The Larry Sanders Show, and in the Arrested Development episode "Bringing Up Buster." In 1999, he hosted the short-lived television series DreamMaker. In 2007, he filmed the PBS pledge-drive special Love Yourself and Win.
He also featured in television advertisements for Sprint, Yoplait, and Herbal Essence shampoos. In late 2007, he was in a This is SportsCenter commercial on ESPN as the show's "conditioning coach". In Canada, Simmons was in an advertisement for Simmons mattresses. The mattress company hired the exercise celebrity because of the similarity in name, and for his appeal to the company's target audience of women over 35. Beyond this, no further business partnership exists between them.
In the Rocko's Modern Life episode "No Pain, No Gain", Simmons voiced an exercise trainer bearing his animated likeness, leading a class filled with large, anthropomorphic animals.
From 2006 to 2008, he hosted a radio show on Sirius Stars (Sirius Satellite Radio channel 102) titled Lighten Up with Richard Simmons.
During the COVID-19 pandemic in 2020, Simmons's YouTube channel was updated with archival exercise videos (recorded before his decision to withdraw from public life) to help people stay fit at home. A spokesperson said the move was motivated by "an overwhelming request for Richard to return in some way as a comfort", and added that "Richard is very touched by the outreach".
Simmons uses his energetic and motivational demeanor to encourage people to lose weight. His high energy level is always featured in his workout videos. His trademark attire is candy-striped Dolphin shorts and tank tops decorated with Swarovski crystals.
Simmons interacts at a personal level with people using his products. This began by personally answering fan mail he received as a cast member of General Hospital. As of 2008, he personally answered emails and letters and made hundreds of phone calls each week to those seeking his help.[needs update]
He claimed to have few friends, saying, "I don't have a lot to offer to one person. I have a lot to offer to a lot of people." Aside from his three Dalmatians and two maids, Simmons lives alone in Beverly Hills, California. While his sexual orientation has been the subject of much speculation, he never publicly discussed his sexuality.
In a 2012 interview with Men's Health, he was quoted:
When the king gets depressed, he doesn't call for his wife or the cook. He turns to the little man with the pointed hat and says to the court jester "make me laugh". And I am that court jester.— Richard Simmons, Men's Health
In September 2005, Simmons appeared on Entertainment Tonight to discuss the effects of Hurricane Katrina on his family in his hometown of New Orleans, and his involvement in aiding those affected by the hurricane. On August 29, 2006, Simmons was on Your World with Neil Cavuto while making a return visit to New Orleans one year after the flooding, a visit he repeated on March 2, 2007, now talking about his recent trip to Washington, DC, to promote and raise awareness about the Strengthening Physical Education Act of 2007 (H.R. 1224).
In 2004, Simmons slapped a man at Phoenix Sky Harbor International Airport. The altercation took place after the man said, "Hey everybody, it's Richard Simmons, let's drop our bags and rock to the '50s'".
In 2008, Bridgestone tires ran a commercial during Super Bowl XLII showing a driver avoiding several hazards while driving at night, including threatening to run down Simmons, who critics argued embodied a homophobic sissy stereotype. Ad Age's critic Bob Garfield described the ad as "grounded in homophobia".
Simmons has not made any major public appearances since 2014, and stopped appearing in public altogether in February of that year. In March 2016, speculation began that he was being held hostage by his housekeeper. In response, on March 14, 2016, Simmons gave an audio interview on the Today Show, denying the rumors. In November, the Slimmons fitness gym closed, without any public announcement from Simmons. In February 2017, the podcast Missing Richard Simmons launched, investigating why Simmons left public life so suddenly.
In March 2017, Los Angeles Police Department detectives visited Simmons's home to conduct a welfare check, issuing a statement that Simmons is "perfectly fine" and that "right now he is doing what he wants to do and it is his business." On April 19, 2017, following a hospitalization for severe indigestion, Simmons made his first public comment in over a year, posting on Facebook a photo of himself and the message "I'm not 'missing', just a little under the weather". However, the picture that was included in the post was from as far back as 2013, leading to speculation that the person who posted the message might not actually have been Simmons.
In May 2017, he sued the National Enquirer, Radar Online, and American Media, Inc. for libel and false claims that he was undergoing gender reassignment. In September 2017, Simmons lost the lawsuit, and was ordered to pay the defendants' attorney's fees. The judge ruled, "because courts have long held that a misidentification of certain immutable characteristics do not naturally tend to injure one's reputation, even if there is sizeable portion of the population who hold prejudices against those characteristics, misidentification of a person as transgender is not actionable defamation absent special damages."
In June 2018, he sued a Los Angeles private investigator, claiming he had placed a tracking device over a year earlier on the only vehicle Simmons used for transportation, noting that such tracking is in violation of California law. In July 2018, Simmons amended the suit, alleging the investigator had been hired by In Touch Weekly and prosecutors filed a criminal complaint. In May 2020, a California appellate court upheld a trial judge's decision allowing Simmons' lawsuit to move forward.
In August 2022, in response to continued rumors and a TMZ documentary What Really Happened to Richard Simmons claiming that knee problems forced Simmons out of public life, Simmons issued a statement to the New York Post that he "is happy, healthy, and living the life he has chosen to live."
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The montage of Gay Peter Pan's phone contacts includes out celebrities like Richard Simmons and Rosie O'Donnell
We've always allowed gay men on the tube – did anyone besides my grandmother really think Liberace was heterosexual? What about Paul Lynde? Richard Simmons? — but the rules are clear. It's all right to be a flamer as long as you agree to keep it secret.
When Kathy Kinney came on my show and outed Richard Simmons, I didn't try to "in" Richard Simmons. The gay community accused me of in-ing Richard Simmons, like I was trying to make people think that he was straight. I will tell you this: If Richard Simmons ever wants to discuss his private life with me on national TV, he's welcome to do so. It is not anyone else's right to do that before he decides it's time. That's the reason I said to Kathy Kinney, "We'll be right back with a commercial." I'm simply saying that that right belongs to him. [Loudly] And no matter what community you feel he's a part of or what he represents to you, it is not as relevant as his own truth.