The Finale of “Missing Richard Simmons” Made Me Confront a Devastating Thought I’ve Tried to Avoid For Three Years

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.

Left: Richard and me in January, 2010. I was 402 pounds. Right: Richard with me weighing 160 pounds less.

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.


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Check out more of my posts about Richard, including:

And my posts about “Missing Richard Simmons”:

19 Responses to The Finale of “Missing Richard Simmons” Made Me Confront a Devastating Thought I’ve Tried to Avoid For Three Years

  1. Karen Geninatti says:

    In my opinion, DAVID, you, and all the others really did mean a lot to Richard. I believe he was sincere to you. The person interviewing Richard does not know his true feelings even though claiming to do so. Only richard knows those.
    I could be wrong, but maybe the real misconception is that a person like Richard who touches so many lives, only has so much of himself to give to them, and maybe his care and concern for each and everyone of you is just on a different level than the care and concern we have, when most likely our database of friends is much smaller than his.

    You did what you did on your own.
    Richard did not do it for you.
    Which means you can continue to do what you have proven you can. The helping hand that we need is usually at the end of our own arm

  2. Karen Geninatti says:

    Overcoming hard things builds our character.

    • My thoughts, too. Well said, Karen. I was one of his Anatomy Asylum instructors in the 1980s, I defended Richard when people said he was all hype and not as sincere as he tried to portray. For me, Richard lived in the moment. If you were in that moment with him, he focused on you. Ten minutes later, he could be focused on someone else, but it did not mean you were dismissed in his mind.

  3. What really sucker punched me was after listening to the podcast wa going Richard’s FB page and reading this (link). I know Richard wrote this. It is nothing like the usual recycled stuff on his pages.I wasn’t close as many were but I hurt for you all. I hurt for me. I took this as we were all the “fake friends”. The glass jewels. It is exactly what his manger said but Richard saying it. I feel used in a way.

  4. Leah says:

    Love you, David. Keep it up.
    I don’t think it was fake. I think he just went away for whatever reason. Call me PollyAnna but I believe in connection and in people and I believe it was real. Your accomplishments are inspiring and so amazing. I am glad he came into your life. Now you are my inspiration and so many other people too!

  5. sandy says:

    David-I purposely did not listen to the podcast, but naturally have heard and read many comments from many of the people we both know throughout the process including the bombshell of this last episode. You just need to keep your own memories and opinions and remember how Richard gave you the kickstart that you needed to change and improve your life, and look at you now! He was the start, but you did the work and stayed with it. I do believe that Richard cared very much about some people, including you, and obviously he didn’t have the same sort of feeling for all of the thousands of people who loved him-it’s not possible. I think that’s who Michael was referring to and yes, he pretended to be close to many, many people. I just hope that he will be left alone to live his life.

  6. MSK says:

    You mean a lot and you inspire me. 🙂 I’m grateful for the path that you’re on and what you mean to me and to others. Sending peaceful thoughts to you.

  7. David, I love reading your blogs even if I don’t always comment. You write so eloquently. Especially in this one.

    I understand how you feel. But Richard isn’t the only person who has the ability to make you feel like you are his best friend in the world, only to (seemingly) turn away. I have experienced friendships like this, and felt hurt and abandoned. Though it took me a long time to realize it, I now see it from a different perspective. Though it may not be true in every case, some people live and love unconditionally. No strings attached. They live for today, not yesterday or tomorrow. They love and embrace the present, including the people who are in their lives at that moment. They move in and out of lives of others without excuses or apologies for missing days or weeks or months or years. They are genuinely happy to see you again, whenever it may be. If you accept them and love them unconditionally as they are, there are no hurts or resentments, only gratitude for the times shared.

    No, they are not the same kinds of friends who you have come to expect to be there to share joy and to confide in when you are down. But that’s okay. Really, it is!

    Like everyone else, I have my own thoughts about Richard’s current path. I believe he is an ultra-sensitive person who feels deeply with great empathy, which can be exhausting. I believe he has always been silently sensitive to the mean-spirited cynicism directed at him. For decades. I know there have been business-related betrayals that have cut him to the core when he was at his lowest when his father died. I’m sure there have been more over the years. If I were in his shoes, I would have walked away many years ago.

    While I am NOT saying Richard is suicidal, it seems as if his disappearance is treated as if he took his own life, as if people are saying, “How could you do this to us? Why were you so selfish as to leave us? If you really cared about us, you wouldn’t have done this.” Speaking as a survivor, I know that “leaving” is not about turning your back on people who love and care about you. It is about not having the ability, the heart, the will to go on. For Richard, I don’t think he turned his back. I believe he simply didn’t have the ability to go on living the public life he was living.

    I have not listened to the podcast, though I saw a brief national news feature with a clip of you. (I gotta a kick out of that! “OMG, there’s DAVID!!). I want to remember Richard from the days I worked at his studio as an instructor and weight loss motivator. If not for this experience, I doubt I would have pursued my writing or published my novels.

    The universe placed Richard in many people’s lives for a particular purpose known only to them. Cynics be damned, including the one in our own head. Don’t allow them to tarnish the memories. Don’t diminish all the goodness and love that is Richard.

  8. What you are feeling is exactly how I felt after Richard did something to me that made me stop going to Slimmons. I had a sick feeling that while I thought he and I were starting to get to know each other, he didn’t think too much of me (and perhaps thought of me as an annoyance).

    I’m so sorry that you have had to go through these feelings too. It’s awful and I wouldn’t wish it on anyone. But know that you are amazing and are inspiring people (including me) every day!

  9. John says:

    I love it! This story is fantastic! David you are the reality, not the what ifs.

  10. Dana says:

    I’ve been listening to the podcast David and when I heard the episode today it really made me sad. I’m so very sorry that you have been dealing with these feelings.

    Your weight loss may have been motivated by Richard but you did all the hard work and you keep working at it. You are truly amazing and you have been very inspiring to so many people!

    You got this!

  11. thecrowdedbookshelf says:

    I loved the podcast. I think it’s interesting that Catalano suggested that perhaps those who felt they were close friends may not have been as close to Richard Simmons as they believed.
    I think you ask some good questions, but I’m not sure if it’s an either/or. I didn’t know Richard Simmons, so none of this could be true, but I hope you don’t feel your friendship is invalidated by Catalano’s suggestion. Friendship is an porous concept – it doesn’t hew to strict, hard rules, definitions and borders. They change, evolve – and when two people are friends, the perception of the friendship has to be different for both people because we’re talking about two different people; Obviously you have to ask the questions you have to ask, but I’m not sure if looking at a friendship with someone can be focused on a question of “truth vs. lie” because I think people are so messy and complex, that it’s more of “truth vs. lie” “truth and lie” “truth” “lie” and any other possible permutations (as well as other concepts outside of “truth” and “lie”)

  12. David says:

    Just wanted to thank everyone for taking the time to reply with such thoughtful, supportive, and insightful comments. I’ve read and reread them, and appreciate them very much. Please forgive me if I don’t respond to each personally – I’m a little emotionally drained regarding this matter – but I’m thankful for all of them, and all of you. XO.

  13. jocelyn says:

    Hey David. I’m so sorry. Love you. Jocelyn

  14. Kristin says:

    It is just my opinion, or rather thought, but I can’t help wonder if perhaps Mr. Catalano pointed out to Richard that people who he thought were friends were actually only his friends because he is a celebrity, causing Richard to pull away from everyone. Personally I have never met Richard Simmons. The closest I ever got was seeing him at an airport once. But he seems like a very genuine person. And as devastated as you are by someone saying he wasn’t really your friend, I can’t help but think of what that thought would do to him. Thinking of all the people he helped and cared about and suddenly thinking they didn’t really care about him as a person. Like I said, it’s just a thought. Perhaps inaccurate. But if there is a grain of truth in it, perhaps you will hear from Richard again. He may just need to sort it out in his mind.

  15. Carrie says:

    The thoughts you’ve shared were tumbling through my mind yesterday before I came here. Wrote a lengthy post and lost it. So here goes (again)….

    I listened to that last podcast episode the other night. Whew, that was a gut-punch. I’ve been questioning my old relationship with Richard ever since. Were we ever friends? Did I know him at all? (His emails to me are archived. I’m not sure what to do with them now.)

    Richard made me feel alive. He woke something in me. I don’t know what. I wrote him back in 1996, but lost touch. When I brought him back into my life in 2012, it sparked something. I started setting up my dining room and eating at a table. Got a bit adventurous with healthier food. Wore outfits for exercise. That man had me dancing in silver strappy heels to Latin cardio for goodness sake! (Richard would have ripped me a new one if he’d found that out, it’s not safe, buuuut I wanted to feel sexy….) My skin glowed and I felt fantastic. He and I had our differences in opinion, but I respected him. He made me one of his Cinderellas (success stories) after losing 50 pounds. That was pretty awesome.

    Energy–I think that’s one thing we miss about him. He brought ENERGY to a room. Slimmons. Chat room at the clubhouse. TV show. Radio station. College campus. Cruise ship room. Etc, Anywhere he taught a class or did an interview, talked to people, he was a strong source of energy, and that, I think, attracted others. When he withdrew that energy (totally understandable–after Hattie died, something definitely shifted), it’s like all the air was sucked out of the room.

    Sorry to make this so rambly, but I do wonder now if this was all….just a nice dream. Maybe Richard used us, in a way, to make him look good and feel good about himself. (After he kind of tweaked my Cinderella story a bit and did the same with someone else, that thougth crossed my mind.) There were times when I went to his clubhouse chats on Monday nights, and walked away feeling like maybe he’s just DONE with the lot of us. Tired of his clients/friends regaining weight, struggling with willpower, making one excuse after another…..and asking himself why he’s doing this anymore. I think on some level, he felt like a failure.

    I dunno. Like you, I’m sorting through all this and trying to figure out what to do. ((Hugs))

  16. Carrie says:

    One more thing: Like others said here, YOU did the work to get healthy. Richard may have planted a seed and helped it grow, but you put in the time and the sweat. This is YOUR STORY. No one can take that away from you, or what you shared with Richard.

  17. Goldrich Sybil says:

    What a wonderfully thoughtful piece and how gracefully you ultimately came to the right space and place. We’ve made wonderful supportive friends through Slimmons and it doesn’t really matter who made that happen. Actually, WE made that happen. Richard supplied the space for it. Yes, I miss him and have the same doubts as you but we are all (including Richard) moving on. The only difference is that we still are in touch and support each other. You are the very best, David. But, you already know that!!!

  18. NonScaleVictory says:

    Don’t Let feelings of loss or possible changes of perspective undo what you have accomplished and achieved. Especially since you have no idea what he really thought. He could be thinking ‘that’s nuts of course we were friends, it was definitely a two sided friendship.’ In times of loss, we all question what actually happened when new information is brought to light. That’s 100% natural to go through. But don’t let it destroy a happy memory or happy accomplishment that you both achieved. You can still know what you lived through was real from your perspective. I love that you’re still going strong even after questioning your reality.

    ‘Keep it up, David!’

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