In the penultimate episode of the six-part podcast series Missing Richard Simmons, host and one-time friend of Simmons, Dan Taberski, finally revealed what he believes may have prompted Simmons to retreat entirely from public life and almost all of his social connections.
But first, Taberski addressed some of the theories that have been circulating and responded to some listener concerns. In the prelude to episode five, “O Brother Where Art Thou?” he reiterated that he and his team are “honest” — perhaps responding to some skepticism that the podcast is a publicity stunt that Simmons is in on — and later addressed a suggestion that has long been circulating online, and has gained more momentum since the podcast debuted: That Simmons is in hiding because he is transitioning to a woman.
Regarding that, Taberski noted that it would not be a particularly unbelievable explanation for why Simmons has retreated from public view, he believes those who are close to Richard who say that is not what is going on. He added that if he believed that’s what was happening, he would respect Simmons’s wishes to make any reveal on his own terms.
Taberski also reiterated earlier assurances in the podcast that Richard may be physically ill. Instead, Taberski believes the Simmons’s dramatic retreat may be related to the intense emotional connections he had with his followers and fans — connections that ultimately may have been too intense.
Taberski interviewed women (some who had appeared on previous episodes) who had witnessed up-close the rabid fandom surrounding the fitness guru, particularly on his annual “Cruise to Lose,” a full immersion into Simmons’s weight loss program on the Caribbean sea. Typically, about 300 women would sign up for the cruise, many of them struggling with their weight.
“A lot of them fell in love with him,” said Winifred Morris, an author and nutritionist who Taberski said worked with Simmons on the Cruise to Lose for 16 years. For some, it wasn’t just about getting in shape, Morris said. It was about him.
Almost every cruise there’s be someone almost ready to commit suicide because Richard wasn’t giving them the attention that they had built up in their mind.
In one case, Morris said a woman on the cruise was beside herself when Richard didn’t devote all of his attention to her. According to Morris, this woman believed that Simmons had been talking to her through his television, and believed that he would propose to her on the cruise.
“It was a problem,” Morris said. “It really was.”
But it was a problem Simmons was complicit in creating.
“Richard needed all those people just as much as they needed him or perhaps a little more more,” Morris said. ”
Taberski also spoke to a licensed therapist, Rebecca Meredith, who got to know Simmons after going on a Cruise to Lose — and lost 120 pounds following his program.
“There are people who for one reason or another you can never do enough for,” Meredith said. “It’s like a bucket with a hole in the bottom of it…. and sometimes people can’t fix that.
“You will ultimately abandon them because they are set up to be ultimately abandoned,” she said.
And that’s what Taberski believes may have happened. In his view, it seems, the people who depended on him, the hundreds of relationships he had maintained with his fans, are not just casualties of Richard’s retreat. Rather, in a sense, they are the cause.
Taberski believes Simmons simply became overwhelmed by one of the very qualities that came to define him.
It’s the classic superhero thing. You have to learn to control your superpower. Or else, it consumes you.
The host spoke to a woman whose late mother had been a huge fan of Richard’s, and shared an anecdote of a time shortly after her mother’s death when she sent an email to the general mailbox on Simmons’s website, telling Simmons how much he meant to her mother, but never expecting to hear anything back.
But days later, the woman, Stacy, got a voicemail from Simmons himself, which she shared on the podcast. In the voicemail, Simmons sounds to be in tears, telling Stacy how sorry he is to hear about her mother,and sharing his own experience of losing his mother years before.
“I know it’s like the hardest thing to go through,” he says in the voicemail. “Your email meant the world to me.”
Stacy said she was over the moon about the message, but Taberski said it raised a red flag for him.
All I hear is utter exhaustion. Richard does not know this person. Empathy is one thing. But to me this is a man who is not in control of it anymore.
There’s only one more episode left of Missing Richard Simmons, and by the sound of things, Simmons has not responded to requests to come on the show. Taberski made a last-ditch appeal to his friend at the end of the episode, asking him to consider a brief interview, if only to let Taberski and others let him know how much he has meant to them, and how they understand why he needed a break.
“For your entire life you have been relentless,” Taberski said. “In personality, in business, and in kindness. And now, in your isolation.”
The final episode of Missing Richard Simmons will air on March 22.
Photo: Associated Press