In the world of podcasts, the #1 Podcast in the nation was Missing Richard Simmons (click on the blue for a link) for the last few weeks. It’s still in the top 10. As some of you know I know Richard, and did some testimonials for his products. I lost 200 pounds with his help back in 94-98 and did some testimonials for and with him. I met a lot of great people through Richard that I will have for life, and had experiences that were once in a lifetime.
I knew very little about Podcast when I did the interview, I had no idea they were such a big industry these days. I really didn’t know the depth of what I had gotten myself into. I blindly trusted someone to carry my true story about my association with Richard and not put a twist on it or sensationalize it. Dan was very gracious to do that. Thank you Dan!
But there is a part of this story that I did not share. A side I shared with only a few people in my life. I have not spoken publicly about this because I did not want to come off bitter or ungrateful. But here it is.
Let me tell you as briefly as I can what I did with Richard Simmons 20 years ago. Unfiltered. I was 444 pounds, I watched Richard on all the talk shows in the 90s. I actually went to great lengths to contact him. I sending him mass letters, tried to win contest on talk shows. One in particular for a Cruise to Lose on the Maury Povich show (this is before he changed his format of his show to “Baby Daddy”) I watched who later became a friend, win that cruise on the show that I had entered. I ended up paying my own way. Right after I signed up for the cruise in December ’94 Richard came to Sioux City to oversee the cookies he made at the cookie factory here in my town that were sold at Walmart, in was in the hight of the fat free crazy, where everyone was cutting out fat and eating tons of sugar instead. So cookies were diet food because they were fat free. Meeting Richard Simmons I met Richard on that cold sub-zero day, and thus the beginning of my association with this fitness guru. He was very gracious to me on that day and made some private time alone with me. I poured my heart out, I was not there to meet a celebrity, I was there to ask for help to lose weight. I gave him my phone number. I left that cookie factory with a little bit of hope. Richard called me the next Sunday at home, and I went and paid my own way on the Cruise to Lose in March weighing 415 pound, I lost some weight before the cruise, but had a long way to go. That first cruise to lose got me inspired to get serious about losing weight. This was how I met Richard Simmons, in my little mid-western town, a morbidly obese woman who was asking for help from someone I believed might care.
The year following the cruise I spent losing weight, talking to Richard on his weekly calls, and writing many letters to the people I met on the cruise. Few people, including me, had computers back then, so we wrote letters and snail mailed them. By the next March in ’96, I had 100+ pounds lost. I looked great, I had a lot of weight still to lose but I looked so different, it made an impact. I had a great time on that cruise with friends I had met on the previous cruise and had been writing and calling that year.
When I got home from the cruise I got a call from Richard that he wanted me to be in his next informational in NYC in August. I was a good candidate as a marketing tool for him, I was losing weight, I looked great, because I am a hairdresser and knew how to present myself at my best, I was clean cut, from a small-town that people could relate to. I was articulate because my job required me to connect with people all day. I was honest, smart, and a bit naive, OK, very naive.
The NYC informational was a blast! nice hotel in Manhattan, my friends were there that I had met on the cruise. I felt like Gomer Pyle in that great city, I’m pretty sure my mouth was gaping open most of the trip looking up at all the tall buildings, since the tallest construction in my town was the water tower or a corn elevator. . Some people, like me, were asked to do testimonials in the informational, many were fans and friends of Richards that were very loyal and dedicated and showed up everywhere across the country that he made any appearance. It was a bit spooky to see the same faces over and over showing up randomly across the country, like malls, and talk show tapping. I was shocked to know there were people who would buy plane tickets and drive very long distances regularly to have their moment with Richard. He was always very good about staying around for hours signing autographs and letting people pour their hearts out to him.
There was this unspoken competition among his followers. Always dropping information about when Richard called them, or if they had been to his home, or gotten a letter. It appeared that the most devoted followers made claims trying to prove the point they were close to Richard. It was like a competition. This really took me off guard, because I saw Richard primarily as someone who could help me get healthy and live a life free from obesity. I noticed it on the first cruise, I swear some of them would shove you aside just to get close to Richard. Maybe it’s just in my head, but the fans from LA were always throwing daggers at some of us who were from other parts of the country and were used for the testimonials. There was a silent resentment. And the ones who seemed to be closest to Richard were the popular girls, like in high school, everyone wanted to hang with them.
I find it interesting listening to the “Missing Richard Simmons” podcast that people who considered themselves close friends with Richard are questioning if they were really close friends with him or not. They seem to be quite distraught about his disappearance, and are taking it personal.
I went home that August, and continued my weight loss journey, I was just a bit over 300 pounds, and had lost around 150. Still getting called from Richard every week, as well and letters he sent me in the mail. I got a call in January of ’97 from Richard that he wanted to get everyone in my town on a diet, and do the next informational in my town, with me leading my fellow fat citizens on their path to good health. He asked me if I could lose 50 pounds by August and have a total of 200 pounds lost, that would have put me at 244 pounds, with a lot of weight still to lose. I now clearly see I was a good marketing tool for Richard. My story would be based on the public seeing the progressive weight loss. I was not going to miss this opportunity, and as any chubby people pleaser would do, I cheerfully agreed. Actually I felt honored.
Richard appeared in South Sioux City, Nebraska in February with his shorts shorts on a tank top. His marketing people from Goodtimes were along as well as the producers who were going to make the informational. The following days were a whirlwind. This was the part they filmed where Richard and I rallied around and got everyone in my town on a diet, and possibly be in an informational. He was at my Beautyshop, the local grocery store, the local coffee spots, and even my church. Along with this was the media from Sioux City, Omaha, and Sioux Falls, both print and newspapers, and a few tabloids. Then as quick as they came, they all left.
Scheduled to come back in August to tape the informational. I was alone, It felt like I was left to clean up after a huge party. I felt responsible to get everyone to lose weight, my phone rang off the hook. The next 6 months I was overwhelmed with people, yet I never felt so alone. Nobody could possibly understand the pressure. I had to lose 50 pounds, answer a billion questions to everyone who spontaneously popped into my shop while I was working on customer, cutting hair. They all wanting to know how they could lose weight and be on TV. Along with that, I got calls everyday from the media, shock jocks who would just call me up at work and catch me off guard, asking me questions like, How fat are you? Are you a virgin? and the endless questions about Richards personal life. That was so hard, and I felt so vulnerable. I was single, I went home alone, with nobody to unload all this onto. When I addressed this with Richard, he received it as complaining, then threatened to pull the plug. When what I wanted was to be heard and understood, and maybe some help. One thing kept my head above water, was the kind folks at Lieberman Productions, the people who filmed the whole thing. I will be forever grateful for Lenny Lieberman and his producer Nina Resnikoff. She was kind, and saw all I was dealing with, she treated me with respect, and was always checking in on me. I realize now, she was concerned about the pressure I was under.
Come August ’97 I had the 50 pounds off to meet my 200 pound loss. I have not told anyone this but I lost most of the last 50 pounds fasting 2-3 days a week, and taking laxatives. I’m not very proud of that.
What I did not know how to handle was the fans and groupies. Groupies never admit to being a groupie. They all believed they were special friends with Richard. I had also noticed from my first cruise there seemed to be a competition about who was closest to Richard. It seemed those who claimed the most time with him, everyone else kind of sucked up to them. And the fans from LA, who regularly attended his exercise studio, were not very friendly to those of us who Richard had met elsewhere. There seemed to be a very strong East Coast fan based, and sort of a rival between East and West coast. All this hype and the fans sort of hit me blindsided and I really didn’t know what to think. It all seemed so weird to me. In the mid-west, for the most part we are very genuine, and straight forward. We are not touched by Hollywood face to face, so we are not star struck like in some of the bigger cities.
Shooting the informational was fun, and stressful. I lost myself in the middle of all this. I lost my focus as to why I wanted to lose weight, it went from wanting a healthy body and a good life to TV, interviews and testimonials in front of a camara. I still had a lot of weight to lose, yet I was put up on a stage in front of my whole town, and on TV as a role model. It was fun, but honestly, what I really wanted was a healthy body and a life aside from all the care taking I have done all my life. It seemed my purpose in life was to make everyone else look beautiful except me. But all the attention was confusing, I could not see what was real and what was just sucking up. I had no real concept as to how much money was made from all of this. I thought the new friends I made were for a lifetime. I believed when someone befriended you, they didn’t have an agenda, they truly wanted to be your friend for life. And Richard convinced me, he was among them.
We shot the informational in my high school gym. I was not very popular in High School. I was the fat girl, I made friends by being nice, or funny or doing things for people. I never went to a single dance or even a football game. So shooting this think at my school was surreal, and humbling.
I got to spend a lot of time with Richard, and the people who worked for him and met some really amazing people. One thing I have always said about Richard, he had some of the best people in the business working for him. Really good people, with a loads of talent. I got to have Richard visit my beauty shop, come over for lunch, and meet my family and friends. It was fun to have him in my world.
After the production was over, I was then a marketing tool to promote the stuff we were selling on the informational, which was a couple of exercise tapes called “Dance Your Pants Off” a few stretch cords, a water bottle with a filter, and a bottle of vitamins. Let me be clear, I was not in the exercise video, I was the face that was used to promote it.
That informational ran a good year, several times a day on many channels, a lot of it was in the middle of the night. Many times I would get a phone call in the middle of the night from some drunk frat boys, or insomniac watching informationals at night. My full name, and town was mentioned on the informational, so I was easy to find. I lived alone, and most of the calls were not polite. I got calls and letter from desperate people, wanting to lose weight. I was not prepared for any of this. I was put on a pedestal too soon, I was a drowning person trying to help those around me who were drowning as well. I did not feel qualified, and hadn’t worked out my own issues yet.
I shared this with Richard, but it didn’t seem to concern him. Honestly, I don’t think he knew what to do. One time I was standing in my shop cutting hair and a cameraman was set up with a tripod across the street filming me through my shop window, I went across the street to see who he was and it was the golf channel! I got a lot of calls from tabloids as well.
Peak season for the weight loss and fitness world, is January 1. So once January hit, and the informational was edited and released, I was asked to do some appearance with Richard using my testimonial. It was the hight of the talk show craze. Oprah, Jenny Jones, Maury Povich, Sally Jessie Raphael, even Carny Wilson had a talk show for a little while. Most asked me to be on their show. I was interviewed on Entertainment Tonight, Richard and Kathy on ET Hard Copy, and Extra. Richard and Kathy on EXTRA A guy from the “Star” offered me a lot of money to tell him about personal things about Richard. I told him no, needless to say. I turned down a lot of them, but agreed to do Maury, before his format changed. Richard and Kathy on Maury…….. I was on QVC on New Years. That btw was how you knew you “arrived” in Richards world. It was the highest of status in the groupie world. He was on QVC several times a year and took a “Cinderella Story” with him on the show. the trip included a few days in Philadelphia, a nice hotel room, and a piece of jewelry from the “vault” from QVC as a reward for the trip. Of course the gift appeared as a gift from Richard.
I was so naive, I remember eating something out of the mini bar in my room and feeling guilty I had spent money that was not mine since someone else paid the hotel bill. Not giving any though that my testimonial on QVC in those 3 hours was bringing in hundreds of thousands of dollars.
QVC invited the fans to come see the appearance live, New Years Eve. We were on 10:00 to Midnight, to ring in the new year. I got a New Years Kiss from Richard on live TV that new years eve, while the confetti fell from the sky. The studio was packed with fans who traveled miles and miles to see him.
I must have been asked a thousand times, how much Richard paid me to do all of this. I would close my shop and fly to NY or Phily to appear on something, I had to pay to board my dog. I was never paid, or reimbursed for the loss of business. Nobody wants to talk about money. When I even hinted to Richard the burden it left me financial, he made me feel I was ungrateful. I appeared on The Maury Show with a group of fat folks who all, except me, got a free Cruise to Lose. I soon became embarrass when asked what I got from all the marketing I had done and found excuses to avoid the subject. I want to make perfectly clear, that I was never promised anything, I willingly participated. But this was really a finance burden, I made a living doing $10 haircuts in the mid 90s in a small town.
After all this, and I was no longer Richards Golden child, and he moved on to the next one, the phone calls became less and less. I started gaining weight. It was like plucking someone off the farm, taking them to Paris, then dropping them back off. There was no one who could possibly understand this crazy ride I was on. I would ask Richard for help. He offered for me to send him my food sheets, but that was about it. Gained weight rapidly, and spun into deep depression, making some aweful choices. My Mom died, he sent flowers, my Dad died he sent flowers, I got married, he sent me a George Forman Grill, my husband died, nothing. I spun into deep depression, I had no living relatives, and I was broke, too fat to work anymore. I shut down, stayed home and spent most of the next 8 to 9 years in bed for the most part. That part was not Richard Simmons fault. He did nothing to me, but he also, did nothing for me. I just got sucked up in the vortex of it all.
Was I a close friend of Richard Simmons? Not as close as I once thought. I finally figured out I was a business venture for him after I gained back the weight and everyone around me died. I did not fully know what I was signed up for, but also was not promised a thing. Many of the friends I made during that time in my life have faded as well. Some were just my friend for the ride, some just faded as friendships sometimes do.
The podcast “Missing Richard Simmons” does not go into any detail about the many, many “Cinderella Stories” who were used for selling merchandise then placed back in their lives when their time was up. So when asked, Does Richard owe us a good-bye. Well, it would have been a nice gesture, but I am not surprised.
I found it a little odd that this was not addressed. All the people over the years who were inspired to lose weight with Richards products, and were used to sell his products. Then almost all, like me, started gaining it back, and he would quietly slip out of your life. Unless you lived near his exercise studio and exercised their regularly, most of us never saw or heard from him. I can not tell you how many times conversations I have had with people who’s experience was like mine. The only difference being, I had Richard blow open my world in my home town. Richard has made a lot of money off of fat lonely, mostly middle age women. The cruises alone in the mid 90’s were a minimum of $1500, multiply that times 300 to 400 times. Nobody talks about this. I am certain if I get brave enough to post this, I will get some heavy duty backlash.
I have met Theresa who takes care of Richard and his home. The stories about her controlling him or being a witch casting spells is ridiculous. She is a lovely, loyal friend to Richard, and was always very kind to me whenever I was in Richard’s home. Theresa did not deserve having her integrity questioned. I don’t fault Dan as much as the guy who claims to be a “masseuse”, who kicked the hornets nest with what I believe was self promotion, not out of his great concern for Richards wellbeing.
I hoped I had made a life long friend when I first met Richard Simmons, but now I can honestly say, I was an acquaintance, and a part of his business world. I just wish he had been clear about that from the beginning. It was an experience I will never forget, and a part of who I am. I am not bitter, or regretful. I had a little fun, experienced things I would have never experienced, and got an education to boot. But when asked the question, does Richard Simmons owe his fans a goodbye? He owes me nothing, but a little gratitude from him would have gone a long way.