It’s over. The final episode of “Missing Richard Simmons” was released Monday – two days ahead of schedule – and there’s plenty in it that I’m still unpacking. I was knocked into a tailspin. My whole notion of who Richard is was shaken. Tears were shed. And I’m about to tell you why.
Before I go further, though, here’s a spoiler alert: This post is a reaction to the sixth episode of “Missing Richard Simmons” – and the podcast as a whole – so don’t read past this paragraph, bookmark this page, and come back to it if you haven’t finished listening yet. (Listen to it right now by clicking here.)
First of all, Dan Taberski did not “find” or talk to Richard Simmons, and I didn’t think he would. Geographically speaking, we know, more or less, where he’s been: at home, living a reclusive life. I suspect that, over the past few years, he’s done some traveling, and even stayed in other cities and states for weeks or months at a time, but uncovering his physical whereabouts wasn’t really the point of the podcast. The better question the podcast asked was this: why did Richard turn his back to the entire world and disappear in the blink of an eye?
The podcast was a fascinatingly thorough, unflinching examination of that question, in which Richard’s dedication to helping others was illuminated and celebrated. I’m flattered that my story and connection to Richard was included in this podcast: I’m “Dave Garcia” – the Slimmons alum that has lost and kept off 160 pounds – that’s featured in episodes 1, 2, 4 and 6.
Dan dug deep into Richard’s history, and the circumstances that might have contributed to his abrupt departure, and painted a portrait of Richard that was truthful, enlightening, and complex. The story takes some bizarre turns, but, then again, Richard was hardly typical in any sense of the word.
What I loved about the podcast, in addition to the compelling storytelling, were all the memories it conjured: of Richard, the hours I spent exercising at Slimmons in his classes, the friendship I had with Richard, and the friendships I formed with others I met through him. There were moments throughout every episode where I felt positively giddy from those memories. I wasn’t the only one that had a connection with Richard, and “Missing Richard Simmons” shared our collective experiences, every empowering, life-affirming, and surreal moment, and validated them.
But the podcast also made every terrible thought and moment from the past three years resurface. Every concern about Richard, every worry, all the time I spent thinking about this situation and feeling grief-stricken, confused, and helpless… that all came bubbling up again. On one hand, it was nice that those thoughts were validated as well, because they are/were very real, but those thoughts are also sad. Painful. Crushing. And thanks to “Missing Richard Simmons,” I was revisited by all of them.
Look, it’s not like I ever stopped being concerned for Richard. I did, though, find a way to keep moving forward in my own life, especially after it became clear that the worry and concerns weren’t doing a bit of good. Richard chose to cut himself off from me and nearly everyone I know, and all the concern in the world wasn’t going to change that. I never stopped thinking about Richard. I eventually learned how to hope for his health and happiness without dwelling on the negatives.
Simply put, listening to this podcast has been an emotional experience. I can’t say that Dan’s investigating brought a lot to the table that I wasn’t aware of, but I’ve been tracking this pretty closely from the beginning. The podcast did, however, share plenty of stories that I had never heard, and offered new perspectives and insight from people who knew Richard during all parts of his life.
Because of this, I wasn’t expecting the last episode to sucker punch me in the gut, but that’s exactly what it did. That’s because it addressed, point blank, one of the thoughts that I’ve tried to avoid for three whole years. In the episode, Dan asked Michael Catalano, Richard’s manager for 30 years, about the many, many people who care for Richard – people like me. This was the exchange they had:
Dan: “Can you understand their point of view? Or do you think their confusion and concern is misplaced?”
Michael: “Richard has this unique quality… spending ten minutes with somebody and they feel like they are his best friend. It’s just a gift that he has, making people feel comfortable and making people really feel like they are part of his inner circle, and that’s not necessarily true. There’s a misrepresentation of the depth of the friendships or the relationships.”
Dan: “So even friendships that have gone, you know, 10, 20, 25 years, you think maybe there’s a difference in perception about what those relationships meant to each person?”
Michael: “I do.”
There you have it, folks, an idea that is downright crippling: Maybe Richard never considered me a friend to begin with. Maybe a friendship that meant so much to me meant absolutely nothing to him.
And here’s the God’s honest truth: I’ve had this thought before, many times over the past few years, but I dismissed it. It’s a scary thought – one that was too painful to acknowledge. It’s been much easier to think that something was wrong with Richard than to admit to myself that our friendship was never real to begin with, that I was living in some sort of delusional alternate universe, a clueless fanboy blinded by celebrity, misinterpreting his words and thinking they meant something they didn’t.
Hearing Michael Catalano – a man that probably knows Richard better than anyone on the planet – confirm one of the things that I’m most fearful of… well, it’s just brutal. And now, I don’t know what to feel. I’m feeling all sorts of things at the same time.
Mostly, though, I feel foolish. Was I really conned, for four whole years, into thinking that I was friends with Richard Simmons? If that’s the case, than Richard is a masterful con artist, and an utterly believable, completely natural, completely pathological liar.
This wasn’t a one-sided relationship, where I projected things onto Richard – he played a very active role. I have years of memories of Richard saying to me, in person, in front of classmates, friends, and witnesses, the sorts of things that friends say to one another. Hell, he said them on national television, with me by his side. He told my mother, in front of me, that he was thankful I was in his life. I have a digital archive of dozens, possibly hundreds, of emails filled with acknowledgements of our friendship and what I meant to him. All of that is true… but all of which could have been lies.
So which is it? Truth or lies? With Richard forever closing the doors, I probably will never get an answer to that question. And that I’m even asking that question in the first place is due to a cunning piece of manipulation on Michael Catalano’s part. In just a few sentences, he’s implied that it’s not Richard Simmons who has a problem, it’s the hundreds of people, like me, that he severed all communication with. All of us saw something that wasn’t there. All of us fell for some sort of ruse. We’re all morons that were blinded the moment we met Richard. We should be questioning our sanity, all of us, the dozens that spent our time and money exercising with him in Beverly Hills on a regularly basis, and the countless others, across the country, that shared their lives with him over the phone and internet, since the mid 1970s.
It’s a ridiculous assertion, and it’s hurtful and offensive. And yet, I’m having a hard time dismissing it. I’ve been replaying Michael’s comments to Dan Taberski over and over in my head, and trying to figure out what Richard really thinks (thought?) of me. Those comments cut me to the bone, even though I know they don’t add up. I think about the things I know about myself – that I’ve heard from other people time and time again – and while I’m not perfect, building delusional, imaginary friendships with celebrities is not one of my faults.
There are two things that ultimately bring me out of this downward spiral of questioning my own sanity and experiences over the past seven years.
1) I actually don’t need to concern myself with what Richard Simmons thinks of me. To quote RuPaul, “what other people think of me is none of my business.” I have years of wonderful memories with Richard that Richard’s spokespeople can’t take from me. Those memories will always be mine, and they make me feel good about myself, about the world I live in, and the communities of people that I surround myself with.
2) Look at what I’ve done with my life! I met Richard when I was over 400 pounds, at a time when I didn’t think I would ever be able to gain control of my health. With his help, I changed that, in major ways. I did the work. I committed myself and made the effort, the sacrifice, and embraced the challenge. And I’ve never looked back.
I’ve kept off these 160 pounds for over six years – the last three of which were during Richard’s absence. His disappearance didn’t shake my resolve to stay healthy, and that’s because of one simple fact: I own my story. It’s mine. I acknowledge, and am grateful, for the people that have supported me along this path – Richard, yes, but many others too. But I did the work. I lost the weight. I keep it off. I push myself. I race up skyscraper stairwells, again and again and again.
This story belong to me. It always will. “Missing Richard Simmons” made me look back at where I came from, and forced me to take a good, hard look at the man who goosed my story into existence. It raised lots of questions, many of them difficult, most of them unanswered. There’s a cloud of mystery that will now probably forever shroud my mentor, based not on the podcast, but the odd, unexplained actions of Richard himself.
But that’s not the only unknown out there. All it takes is one turn of the head to go from looking back to looking forward, and my future is there, waiting to be shaped, waiting to be transformed. It’s in the love I share with the people in my life. It’s just beyond my grasp in the stairwells where I race, pushing me to keep going, and dig deeper. It’s in the mirror, alongside the smirk of a man who doesn’t like to give up.
It’s everywhere, all around me, waiting for me. All I have to do is keep reaching for it… and that’s exactly what I’m going to do.
Keep it up, David.
Follow me! I’m @keepitupdavid on Facebook, Instagram, Twitter, and Snapchat, and I’m on Google+ too! There’s also a “Sign Me Up” box on this page (at the top of the right-hand column) where you can subscribe to receive new posts via email!
Check out more of my posts about Richard, including:
- How I met Richard and how he helped me lost 160 pounds
- Filming his music video for “Hairdo”
- Appearing in his infomercial for “Project Hope”
- My first post about Richard’s disappearance
- Why I kept going to Slimmons after Richard stopped teaching
- My reaction to some outrageous theories involving witchcraft and black magic
- Attending the final class at Slimmons before it closed for good
And my posts about “Missing Richard Simmons”: