In the world of breakout podcast sensations, Missing Richard Simmons is this year’s Serial.
Whereas Serial features host and cocreator Sarah Koenig examining true-crime cases in the manner of a “whodunnit,” Missing Richard Simmons is all about TV producer turned podcaster Dan Taberski plunging into an endlessly intriguing realm of “Where is he?”
So before you listen to Missing Richard Simmons‘ completely captivating and more-than-occasionally alarming six episodes, check out these five background facts.
1. FLAMBOYANT FITNESS GURU RICHARD SIMMONS “DISAPPEARED” IN FEBRUARY 2014
After decades of dazzling millions with his outrageously energetic TV appearances, personally coaching thousands toward healthy lifestyles, and amassing a fortune via his “Deal a Meal” diet cards and “Sweatin’ to the Oldies” videos, ubiquitous camp figure and pop-culture fixture Richard Simmons suddenly and entirely withdrew from the public eye in 2014.
Such things happen, of course. Simmons loomed on the brink of 65, and that’s certainly not an unreasonable age for a professional exercise enthusiast to take a career breather. The shocker, though, was that, at the exact same time, Simmons also abruptly ended relationships and cut off friends in his private life.
Two years passed before Richard Simmons’ retreat became a point of public fascination, and the phenomenon has become a mass obsession in the time since then.
2. DEPRESSION, DALMATIANS, AND WICKED WITCHERY (ACCUSATIONS)
On March 12, 2016, The New York Daily News published “The Haunted Twilight of Richard Simmons,” a feature story in which Mauro Oliveira, Simmons’ personal companion, described getting an out-of-nowhere heave-ho that broke his heart.
Oliveira said he believes Simmons has succumbed to severe depression over nagging knee problems that surgery didn’t seem to be healing and even more so due to the death of his dog Hattie, the last of his eight beloved Dalmatians. When asked where Simmons might be, Oliveira said, “Medicated and in bed.”
In addition, Oliveira said that an unholy cabal was controlling Simmons that consisted of his brother Lenny Simmons, his manager Michael Catalano, and his housekeeper Teresa Reveles.
And, yes, Oliveira has stated forthrightly that he believes Reveles is a Mexican witch who’s holding Simmons captive with the power of black magic. He told the News:
“I think it was (caused by) black magic, witchcraft. That’s not close to your culture, but to my culture in Brazil, and to Mexicans, this a real thing. They invoke the spirits. They light black candles, and red and blue candles. I’ve never participated. I only saw from a distance. But at services, they do special meals. They offer meals to the bad spirits, and light candles, invoking with words.”
Oliveira has also self-published a fairy-tale-style allegory on his theory that’s available to download for a mere $29.99, King Rich and the Evil Witch.
The day after the Daily News story broke, Richard Simmons called in to NBC’s Today to assure the world he was okay, just taking some time for himself. Since then, he has reportedly made no contact whatsoever with anyone outside the walls of his Beverly Hills mansion. For sure, no one has since said they’ve seen him.
3. HOST DAN TABERSKI SAYS MISSING RICHARD SIMMONS IS PERSONAL
Dan Taberski is a Hollywood producer and director who has worked on everything from The Daily Show to popular kids programming to actual economic policy in the Clinton White House.
In 2012, Taberski happened by Slimmons, the small Beverly Hills fitness studio that Richard Simmons first opened in 1976. He signed up for a $12 class that, to his surprise, Simmons himself taught, and had a blast.nTaberski describes the Slimmons sessions as wild, deeply naughty fun, with Richard “working blue” while leading students through their exercise paces.
Taberski became a regular and, in short order, struck up a friendship with Richard that included double dates (Taberski has a husband) and regular evenings at Simmons’ home.
Then, on that fateful day, Taberski showed up for his usual Slimmons visit, and Richard never showed. And then he never showed up again … anywhere.
Beyond his own feelings for his friend, Taberski says he launched the podcast to address the concerns and fears of the literally thousands of people with whom Richard Simmons kept in constant touch.
Richard’s network included friends, clients, acquaintances, and even strangers that he actively supported with love, conversations, encouragement, laughter, and even, apparently, money. Many of those relationships have gone back nearly a half-century.
4. RICHARD SIMMONS IS NOT INTERESTED IN THE PODCAST … ALTHOUGH HE HIMSELF HASN’T SAID SO
In keeping with the overall “radio silence” status, Richard Simmons has most definitely not participated in Missing Richard Simmons, and he has no plans to do so. At least that’s what his manager and his brother have said.
Michael Catalano, the manager, has officially stated:
“Richard is enjoying life at home after a 40-year career of traveling the world and inspiring people to take better care of themselves. He is working on several projects and continues to encourage those that need his help.”
On March 14, Lenny Simmons told Entertainment Tonight that his brother is active and A-OK, saying that they spoke a day earlier and that Richard said he’d gone to New York to see the Broadway musical Beautiful.
Lenny also defended Teresa Reveles, saying, “Teresa is a very lovely lady. She has been a good friend of my brother for over 20 some odd years. It stresses me to hear that people think that she is holding him hostage or that she is mean. She isn’t. She is a very nice person.”
By their accounts, Richard Simmons is simply living at home, opting to be left alone. The reports from two LAPD visits, made in response to Mauro Oliveira calling in suspicions of “elder abuse,” back up that version of the story.
In addition, Simmons’ Facebook page is regularly updated with posts written in the first person.
5. THE NEW YORK TIMES CALLED THE PODCAST “MORALLY SUSPECT”
While tens of millions of listeners are downloading and discussing Missing Richard Simmons, our Newspaper of Record has tsk-tsk’d the whole endeavor as perhaps the story being none of Dan Taberski’s business — and certainly not any of ours.
In the course of the podcast, Taberski raises and quickly says he’s not interested in discussing two personal issues that Simmons has never addressed in public: the fitness guru’s sexual orientation and rumors that Richard may be transitioning into a female. The Times points out that in simply addressing the topics, Taberski has de facto commented on them.
Times writer Amanda Hess ends her assessment of the podcast by writing:
By turning a journalist into a friend and casting a man’s personal life as a mystery, “Missing Richard Simmons” has retooled the stale Hollywood documentary as an addictive media sensation. But it’s also turned it into a morally suspect exercise: An invasion of privacy masquerading as a love letter. Mr. Simmons is a public figure, and that gives journalists a lot of latitude to pry. But a friend who claims to want to help Mr. Simmons should probably just leave him alone.
And with that, the intrigue over the whole affair just deepens and expands.
Main image: Missing Richard Simmons/official logo [promotional image]