Richard Simmons’ riotous enthusiasm, shrieks, and step exercises first came into my life in my in my friend’s living room, somewhere in the swamps of suburban New Jersey. I was in elementary school and still didn’t quite understand the point of exercise videos. All I knew was that Richard Simmons was unlike any other adult I’d ever encountered before. He seemed like he had never grown up. He seemed like someone I who’d be a fabulous guest at my birthday parties.
Over the years, Simmons stayed in the corner of my heart where I house the fixtures of pop culture who remain distinct individuals in homogenous Hollywood (see: Danny DeVito). But, unlike the legions of people who took his exercise class in L.A. or the folks he was coaching through weight loss, I didn’t have my eye on Richard Simmons. So I didn’t notice the day when he slipped off the face of the planet.
On February 15, 2014, Simmons retreated into his massive Hollywood mansion. He has yet to emerge.
Like a series of Herculean tasks, many have tried and many have failed to coax Richard out from his lodgings. It’s only now that the magical investigative powers of podcast journalism have zeroed in on the Richard Simmons enigma. Move over, Sarah Koenig, because Dan Taberski and his podcast, Missing Richard Simmons, are here.
Through a series of interviews, conjectures, and almost break-ins, Taberski attempts to answer the question: What happened to Richard Simmons? Like Serial, Missing Richard Simmons is recorded without any end in sight. Instead, we follow along as Taberski gathers information (and possible conclusions) in real time.
Taberski, a former Daily Show correspondent, has a special authority in spearheading the informal Simmons’ investigation. A regular attendee of Simmons’ exercise studio, Slimmons, Taberski and his partner also socialized with Simmons outside of class. He can even provide an in-depth picture of Simmons’ “taupe” living room.
That Taberski knew Simmons personally is essential to the podcast’s success. He comes to the subject without morbid curiosity, as someone (like me) might approach the idea of a manic man shut up in his mansion with his (possible witch) of a housekeeper. Instead, he approaches the case with concern.
This brings us to the cleverness of the title, which exemplifies the podcast’s brand of empathetic investigation. On the one hand, Richard Simmons is technically missing. But, perhaps more importantly, the theme that arises in all of Taberski’s interviews with Simmons’ loved ones? They are actively missing Richard Simmons. Each individual wades through feelings of abandonment, worry, and ownership over the Richard they knew.
Their Richard coached strangers through their weight-loss journies; poured his heart out during exercise class; loved his eight (!) Dalmatians more than life. The Richard they knew was also prone to bouts of depression, cooked his housekeeper breakfast every morning, and refused to open up about his personal life. But however well everyone thought they knew Richard, no one — not even his beloved masseuse — knows what happened to him three years ago to send him over the edge.
In each episode, Taberski explores a different theory. Have his bad knees prevented him from exercise? Did the loss of his last Dalmatian send him into depression? Or, most compellingly, is his maid holding him hostage? Taberski’s interviews bolster each of these claims, but give no answers.
We’re halfway through the season now. There’s a good chance that Taberski will emerge with interviews and conjecture but no fact — and that Richard Simmons will be just as missing at the end of the series as he was at the beginning.
But trust us: It’s worth listening to find out.
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