The New York Daily News ran a lengthy, in-depth story about Richard Simmons on Saturday, and it spread like wildfire. It is a fascinating read by Andy Martino. I highly recommend you take a few minutes and check it out. Read it here.
The story, naturally, is about Richard Simmons’ disappearance from the public eye. It’s been over two years since Richard has taught a class or made a public appearance. It’s been two years since I’ve seen him or heard from him. I consider Richard a friend, and he’s a very important person in my life. It was with his help that I lost 160 pounds – weight I’ve kept off for over five years. I appeared on “The Ellen DeGeneres Show” and “The Doctors” with Richard, and I was in one of his infomercials, too.
I haven’t written about Richard lately on this blog, if only because there was nothing to say. An occasional story pops up in the National Enquirer or on TMZ, but they tend to rehash the same old shit. Richard has never directly addressed his disappearance in a statement of any kind, and his representatives occasionally respond to tabloid press, but haven’t been proactive about sharing any information about him.
Frankly, I’m thankful for the New York Daily News piece. This is the sort of thorough, thoughtful press that this situation warrants, and hasn’t received thus far. The piece gets a lot of things right: it discusses Richard’s decades-long history of reaching out to and caring for people that need help with their weight; it paints a vibrant picture of Richard that shows how his personality and character is much more layered and complex than the persona he’s shared on TV; it provides a historical and biographical context to everything that’s happened (or hasn’t) in the past two years.
But I just don’t buy into the main theory suggested by people featured in the article: the allegation that Richard is somehow being held captive or against his will in his own home by his housekeeper, brother, and manager, and that they’re being aided by “black magic” or that a “bad spirit” was summoned to possess him.
It’s a juicy plot twist, for sure. Kidnapping? Black Magic? Possession? This is “Days of Our Lives”-level storytelling, folks. It’s compelling. It’s dramatic. I understand why this is the angle that all the other news outlets are picking up on and covering.
Apart from the fact that I simply don’t believe in black magic, there are other reasons why this theory rings false for me, and mainly, it’s because of the messenger. I’ve never met Mauro Oliveira, the main source in the article putting forward this theory, but there are a couple things worth noting:
1) Mauro says he last saw Richard in April 2014, a couple months after Richard stopped talking to most other people in his life, but Mauro’s story ends there. Mauro hasn’t seen or talked to Richard since, so he’s no more an authority on the last two years than anyone else. It’s unfortunate that because there aren’t others with information on Richard that are talking, the press turns to Mauro again and again. (Richard’s longtime manager, Michael Catalano, told the New York Daily News that he saw Richard a few months ago, during the 2015 holiday season, and that Richard was “in great health,” but this information is buried at the end of the article. I’m more inclined to believe Catalano, who has worked with Richard for over 25 years, but I understand why this was barely a footnote in a story that features supernatural elements like witchcraft.)
2) Mauro is profiting off Richard’s absence. He wrote a 51-page ebook telling this story (as a thinly veiled fairy tale), and is currently selling it on Amazon for $29.99. The article nicely summarizes the book, which I haven’t read. (I did read the first few pages, available for free on Amazon, and could barely get through them. The writing is terrible, and full of grammatical errors.) I have trouble trusting a source that is making money off this situation. I wouldn’t be surprised if the New York Daily News paid Mauro for his interview, or to use the photos he provided them.
So, if Richard isn’t being held captive by his black-magic-using housekeeper, than where is he?
First of all, I don’t think Richard is holed up like a recluse in his mansion. I actually don’t think Richard spends much time there at all. His reps claim that he is “living life out of the public eye,” and I more or less believe them, even though that statement is awfully vague.
My own personal theory hasn’t changed in quite some time. Richard was dealing with some difficult things around the time that he stopped teaching and making public appearances: the death of his dog, a persistant knee injury, possibly some other personal things. I think depression led Richard to retreat from public life, and, in the two years that have passed since, Richard has gotten a taste of a quieter, simpler existence – one that is notably different from the very public life he led for over 40 years. I think Richard has embraced this different way of living, and has found some sort of peace, comfort, or happiness.
From a PR perspective, I still think the whole situation has been handled horribly. The only time there’s been any sort of information from his representatives has been when they’ve responded to negative, salacious tabloid coverage. They kicked it into high gear this afternoon, with his publicist Tom Estey giving statements to People magazine and USA Today. (Tom told People that Richard is working on “several projects to be announced soon,” which is new information, and equally vague.)
FUN FACT! Tom Estey blocked me on Twitter. I noticed his habit of tweeting links to negative stories about Richard, and it irked me. Why would a publicist spread stories about a client that the publicist thought were untrue? So, in December, I called him out on it. Tom shared the link to this British tabloid story, saying, in his tweet: “This business we call show-biz is truly sad – the TRUTH means nothing”. So I replied to his tweet, and asked: “Why are you sharing “sad” tabloid links? What’s “the TRUTH”? If it weren’t for tabloids, there’d be radio silence.” And Tom responded by blocking me. That’s top-notch PR work right there. It seems I struck a nerve.
Ultimately, I want what’s best for Richard – namely, for him to be happy and healthy. I choose to stay positive about the situation. As the article points out, “The mind slips to dark places, when deprived of information.” And despite this very involved and thorough article, there’s barely any information about Richard’s life during the past two years out there, and I refuse to take the word of a profiteering and possibly untruthful former employee as gospel.
I would love to see Richard again at some point. I want to give him a big hug. I want to thank him for what he’s done for me, and for countless thousands of people across the country. I want to ask him how he’s been. And, honestly, part of me wants to scold him, too, because the heartbreak and worry he caused his fans could have easily been avoided.
You know what? I also want to show him that I’m doing pretty damn well. All he wanted for his students and devotees was for them to take control of their lives, love themselves, and be healthy, and I’m doing it. And even though he hasn’t been to Slimmons, I’ve still been going and taking a class a few times each month. At a time when Richard isn’t returning phone calls or emails, it’s one small way I can still support him, whether he’s aware of it or not, and that’s important to me.
Keep it up, David!