‘Missing Richard Simmons’: the story behind the country’s number one podcast

On Feb. 15, 2014, fitness guru Richard Simmons disappeared from the public eye. He stopped teaching his classes at his Los Angeles studio, Slimmons. He didn’t return phone calls, emails or messages from his friends or fans. The man, who had spent his 40-year career helping people sweat off the pounds and improve their well-being, simply went dark.

Dan Taberski had met Simmons while attending his exercise classes at his L.A. studio in 2012. During their friendship, Taberski and Simmons had discussed doing a documentary together about Simmons’ life. But when Simmons disappeared, Taberski shifted gears. On the third anniversary of Simmons’ disappearance, Dan Taberski launched the podcast “Missing Richard Simmons.” The six-episode podcast, which has reached #1 on the charts, chronicles Taberski’s search for Simmons. He interviews Simmons’ close friends, pays a visit to Richard’s house and even heads to New Orleans to talk to Simmons’ brother, hoping to find some answers. Taberski sat down with Yahoo Global News Anchor Katie Couric to discuss the fitness icon’s incredible career success, his uncanny ability to connect with people and why the mystery of Simmons’ disappearance and Taberski’s desire to find him is so important.

“[Simmons] changed fitness forever. Before he came on the scene, fitness and aerobics was for people who had hard bodies and just wanted to get a little harder,” Taberski said. “He remembered because he was overweight himself once that it’s really about the people who live in America, regular people.”

Taberski explained that Simmons’ tapping into the average American’s fitness world was “incredibly smart businesswise.” Simmons had opened 72 gyms by the time he was 35, and during his career he made over 70 videos and earned $160 million from his Deal-a-Meal program.

Several rumors have floated around about Simmons’ disappearance. Stories emerged that Simmons was being controlled and held hostage in his own home by someone who works for him. It was also reported that he was transitioning into a woman. Simmons himself, claiming to be speaking from home, has denied all of these stories. He even called into the Today show in March 2016 to tell his fans that there is no need to worry. But many of his friends don’t believe it. They are worried about him and don’t understand why he just withdrew from the spotlight so abruptly, and without any known reason.

Talking with Couric, Taberski discussed two theories as to why, he believes, Simmons may have stepped away from the limelight. First, he was fighting a nagging knee problem that may have sidelined him for good. Second, his dog, Hattie, the last of Simmons’ eight Dalmatians, had passed away at 17, and Simmons was devastated by the loss. But Taberski also thinks the intense empathy that Richard feels for other people and the extreme efforts the fitness guru put forth to make others feel better may have taken a toll on him.

“He would wake up at 4 in the morning and reach out to 30, 40, 50 people with phone calls and emails,” Taberski explained. “It was sustained relationships that lasted years, sometimes decades.”

Since his disappearance, Simmons has been active on social media, posting and tweeting photos and motivational sayings. But Taberski doesn’t necessarily believe it is Simmons himself. “I’m almost positive it’s a social media manager,” Taberski said. “A lot of celebrities have people who manage their social media, but in the context of what’s going on, it adds to the mystery that nobody is alleviating.”

Taberski said, “There’s been some stirring” from Simmons’ camp since the podcast launched. “I have not talked to him yet. I’m hoping to end the podcast with a conversation with him.” He added, “This is my grand gesture to Richard. I want him to see that we don’t see him as a one-dimensional person, that we understand how important he was, and that he’s loved.”