He spent most of his life in the public eye, touching the lives of ‘regular’ people who saw him as more than a fitness guru — he was their friend. Richard Simmons never let his riches or fame keep him from forming real connections with people he had met along the way, people from all over the country who looked forward to his weekly check-in phone calls, or those in Los Angeles, who faithfully attended his Beverly Hills exercise classes at Slimmons Studio, and sometimes, were invited to Simmons’s home. If there was one thing about Richard Simmons that everyone could agree on, it was that he was accessible.
But three years ago, Richard suddenly stopped coming to class. The weekly phone calls stopped. He stopped answering his doorbell. Later, the doorbell was removed. Concerned friends would try and call, or stop by and check on him, only to be ignored or turned away by Simmons’s longtime housekeeper, Teresa Reveles, who told them he didn’t want to see or speak to anyone.
Now and again, his vanishing made news headlines. In 2015, someone filed a report claiming Simmons was a victim of elder abuse. But the police who went to his home to do a welfare check told the media that he was absolutely fine, and said that he just wanted some time to himself after 30 years in the spotlight. Still, the elder abuse claim, and rumors that Reveles had excessive control over his life, raised concerns that Richard’s housekeeper was somehow responsible for the fitness guru’s sudden reclusiveness.
But one year ago, in March 2016, Simmons addressed those rumors head-on when he called into the Today show to say, again, that he was absolutely fine.
“No one is holding me in my house as a hostage,” Simmons told Today host Savannah Guthrie. “You know I do what I want to do as I’ve always done, so people should sort of just believe what I have to say because, like, I’m Richard Simmons!,” adding:
I just really don’t want to do anything.
In the phone interview, Simmons promised he would some day come back into the public eye.
“Richard’s fine,” he said. “You haven’t seen the last of me. I’ll come back, and I’ll come back strong.”
Not everyone was convinced. A year later, he hasn’t come back, and he’s still refusing to see his friends. One of those friends is Dan Taberski, who became close to Richard after he started taking his classes in 2012. Taberski has been so perplexed by Richard’s disappearance that he has devoted a podcast to figuring out why Richard went radio silent — a podcast that he told Yahoo! he hopes will coax Richard out of hiding, if that’s what is going on.
“I’m hoping to end the podcast with a conversation with him,” Taberski said.
Only three episodes in, the Missing Richard Simmons podcast has already painted a much more complex picture of Richard Simmons than has been presented in the media so far. For Taberski and other people who attended his Beverly Hills exercise class, it wasn’t always high kicks and cheerful motivators. While Richard was almost always high energy, the former attendees say, he had a filthy sense of humor and could be very racy in his interactions with members of the class. Occasionally, he would break down in tears, leaving the students perplexed as to how to respond. He also sometimes composed the music that accompanied his classes — including a song he wrote about Iraq War veterans.
We know now that Richard was completely in love with and devoted to his dogs — all Dalmatians. At one time, he reportedly owned more than a dozen, but over the years they had died off. Shortly before he vanished, the last of the pack, 17-year-old Hattie, died. Friends knew this was beyond devastating to Simmons. But they don’t know if it’s enough to account for a three-yearlong hiatus. Especially for someone who seemed to thrive so much on interacting with people, with helping them, with always being there.
That question is at the heart of Missing Richard Simmons: How could Simmons just walk away, when so many people have been counting on him? Several of his friends have spoken to Taberski so far, and few can understand how he could be comfortable cutting off ties so abruptly. He always had a such a big heart, and was so generous with himself. He had to have known how important he was to so many people. Or did he?
While Simmons had countless people in his life he would speak to regularly and see on occasion, his personal life has always been somewhat mysterious.
“I don’t have a lot to offer to one person. I have a lot to offer to a lot of people,” Simmons once said.
He made numerous appearances on the ESPN talk show Cheap Seats, and one of those occasions he spoke of what sounded like a pretty lonely life.
I don’t hang out with people. I live a very recluse life…I teach my class, I kiss everybody, I take hundreds of photos, and I go home. I socialize with no one. I haven’t been to anyone’s house in seven years.
While that may have been a slight exaggeration — Taberski himself spoke of going out for meals with Simmons and going to his house, though not vice versa — it does raise the possibility that maybe Simmons got tired of giving so much of himself. Maybe there’s a reason the only person he is known to see now is someone who has devoted her whole life to him. Maybe he felt that his other “friendships” were too one-sided.
Still, even if Reveles isn’t holding him hostage, it doesn’t sound like she and Simmons have a typical housekeeper-employer relationship in any sense. On Missing Richard Simmons, Taberski spoke of going to his house for dinner, where the housekeeper was treated as the guest of honor — seated at the head of the table — while Simmons did all the cooking and cleaning.
Taberski spoke to the man who made the elder abuse charges against Reveles, and it turns out the two are arch enemies.
Mauro Oliveira met Simmons in 2013, and upon their first meeting Richard asked him to become his personal assistant. Oliveira worked for him as his assistant and private masseuse for over a year, and while little is known about the specifics of their personal relationship, Taberski says on Missing Richard Simmons it was clear they were very close. But it seems Reveles did not approve.
On the podcast, Oliveira says that Reveles is an actual witch, and talks about the fairy tale e-book he published and sold on Amazon for $29.99, King Rich and The Evil Witch. The Amazon synopsis makes it clear the story is a direct reference to what Oliveira thinks is going on with Richard. And it’s a little odd.
This tale is a gift from heaven, because the author never dreamt about writing a fairy tale (no pun intended), much less be in one and/or writing about his experience with the guru in any format.
Oliveira seems to be the only person Simmons told he would be going off the grid. He recounts a meeting at Simmons’ home in 2014, when his friend and employer told him they wouldn’t be seeing each other anymore. Oliveira said he tried to talk him out of it, and offered to give him a massage. But when Simmons told Reveles about their plans, she got upset and screamed for Oliveira to get out. That was the last time he saw or heard from Simmons.
In the most recent episode of Missing Richard Simmons, Taberski addressed listener confusion about Simmons’s social media accounts, which are regularly updated. But as Taberski pointed out, there is a good chance his accounts are handled by someone else, and many of the photos and videos shared on Facebook and Twitter not current. Taberski, who had many email exchanges with Simmons while they were friendly, said he occasionally sees a post he thinks may have been written by Simmons: The clue, he said, is the use of a lot of ellipses. A lot.
Also in the last episode, Taberski said we will be hearing from Reveles, and he told the New York Post that there has been “some stirring” among Simmons’ associates, but he hasn’t made contact yet with Simmons himself.
The next episode of Missing Richard Simmons will be available on March 8.
Photo: Associated Press