Earlier this month, I got a tweet from Richard Simmons. Even though it only said “XOXO,” that tweet was really special, because it was the first time I’ve heard anything from Richard in four months.
Richard is a remarkably accessible celebrity. He’s taught aerobics in Beverly Hills for 40 years, and anyone can come and exercise with him. It’s been reported that he’ll call 50 people a day, all across the country, to check in on them. He’ll respond to hundreds of emails and messages on social media every week.
Recently, though, it’s all come to a grinding halt. Richard hasn’t taught a class since February. He’s stopped answering emails. No one I know has heard from him. There are still Facebook and Twitter messages, but there’s a good chance they’re posted by his staff. Richard, for lack of a better word, has disappeared.
Richard is an important person in my life, and a very good friend. I first met him four and a half years ago, when I produced his appearance on “The Ellen DeGeneres Show.” On the day of the taping, he offered to help me lose weight. I was over 400 pounds.
Since then, Richard has been an incredible source of support, guidance, and love. He’s been my biggest cheerleader. I’ve discovered an inner strength I never knew I had, and it’s because Richard encouraged me, reminded me that I was worth fighting for, and kept me laughing and smiling the whole time. With his help, I’ve lost 160 pounds and kept it off. My friendship with Richard and my weight loss success has provided me some incredible opportunities. I’ve appeared with Richard as a guest on “The Ellen DeGeneres Show” and “The Doctors.” I was featured in his most recent infomercial.
I’m lucky to have Richard in my life, and I’m grateful I can call him my friend. I’ve been a regular at his classes at Slimmons ever since the day we met, going about once a week. He’s always ready with a big smile, a hug, and a kiss, and asks about my career, my family, my life.
During the first year I knew Richard, I was emailing him once a week with a food log of everything I ate and drank, and he would write back, often within the hour, with thoughts on how I was doing and what changes I could make. Even though I no longer email him a food log, I still touch base with him via email on a regular basis, and more times than not, Richard will write back, even if I saw him in person earlier that week.
Things changed, though, in February. I last saw Richard at his class on February 4th. The last email I got from him was on February 17th. Since then, it’s been radio silence.
The official word is that Richard is struggling with an injury. After a few weeks of absences at Slimmons, a sign went up in the lobby. It said, in part, that “Richard has been undergoing physical therapy for a persistent knee problem and has been instructed to stay off his feet. Richard will not be teaching for the remainder of March, unless his condition improves. Substitute teachers will teach all of Richard’s classes.” Soon, the word “March” was replaced with “April,” then “May,” and so on.
I know that Richard has had issues with his knee, as he used to mention it in class. But I suspect that there may be other issues he’s struggling with, and that has me concerned. The biggest red flag is his lack of communication, because it’s not just me that hasn’t heard from him. The other regulars at Slimmons, some of whom have known Richard for decades, haven’t heard a thing from him. The Slimmons staff say they’re in the dark. Those who have known Richard much longer than I have claim that he’s never acted like this before. People are worried about him. I’m worried about him.
So I’ve been doing the only thing I can think to do, and that’s to continue supporting Richard and letting him know that I care. I send an email every week or two, letting him know that I’m thinking of him, wishing him the best, and a speedy recovery. Despite his absence, I still go to Slimmons once a week and take a class with Anne, another instructor there. I have many friends there, and before and after class, we check in with each other. The conversation always includes Richard, and all of us confess that another week has gone by without anyone hearing anything.
The toughest part about continuing to go to Slimmons has been that the mood there has changed dramatically. Class sizes are understandably smaller – without Richard teaching, the tourist and first-timer crowd has evaporated completely, leaving just a core group of regulars. Even among the regulars, I’ve felt the energy change. Towards the beginning of Richard’s absence, we were all concerned but hopeful. As time has passed, the levels of worry, frustration, and helplessness have increased. There’s a sense of disconnect. It’s hard not to feel a little lost and confused when the man that’s so special to all of us has so mysteriously gone quiet.
Ultimately, I understand if Richard is ready to slow down or make a change. He’s been at this for 40 years, which is a very long time. He’s turning 66 next month, so if wants to retire or cut back, I say he’s earned it, and good for him.
I’m also not asking to be Richard’s confidante. I don’t expect a response to every email, nor a thorough run-down of what’s going on his life. I understand and respect his need for privacy. That said, it would be nice to know that he’s all right. It would be nice to know that he’s seeking help, talking with loved ones, and doing his best. It would be nice to know that there’s no need to worry.
Whatever Richard is going through, I know he can beat it. I know how strong he is. I know how much love is in his heart. I know how much love there is pouring his way from every corner of this country. Richard has an army of friends, supporters and fans (me included) that want nothing but the best for him. Richard has lifted countless people from the depths of depression, pain, heartache, and self-loathing, and shown them love. He’s been a beacon of light and hope for an endless line of people when they felt neither of those things. I know that all those people, plus millions more, are ready and willing to return that love to Richard and help him however they can.
I used to wish that Richard would return to Slimmons quickly and resume teaching classes. But that wish is selfish, so lately, I’ve just been wishing for Richard’s health and happiness. That’s the most important thing.
I hope that my friend is well, and getting better each day.