Sunday, December 20, 2020

When Richard Simmons Was Committed to the 'Asylum'

Had to smile when I came across this ad for the Richard Simmons Anatomy Asylum, which was the original name of the fitness guru's pre-fame Beverly Hills studio that opened back in 1974. Simmons reportedly didn't like that most gyms catered to the already fit client, so after losing about 125 pounds he decided to open his own venue to help people who struggled like him. 

As a college art student, Simmons had appeared among the "freak show" characters in the Fellini films "Satyricon" (1968) and "The Clowns" (1970) and he eventually reached a peak of 268 pounds.

I first learned of the future Deal-A-Meal queen in 1979 when he started appearing on "General Hospital," a show my brothers and I watched religiously with our mom on our summer vacations. (I still get chills remembering when PJ -- aka Steven Lars -- accidentally spun the lazy Susan and Heather wound up taking the LSD!) Simmons proved to be so popular that he and other cast members began making personal appearances at shopping malls. He was reportedly so impressed by the number of people he could reach this way that he continued making the rounds even after leaving the show a few years later.

“I travel almost 300 days a year,” he said in 1991. “I do mostly shopping malls, because everyone will come to a shopping mall, no matter what they weigh, no matter their economic structure, no matter what they drive. The malls are the meeting places of America. And so that's where I go."

 In the 1980s, he hosted two television shows -- the Emmy Award-winning talk show "The Richard Simmons Show” and “Slim Cooking” -- and wrote numerous best-selling books. Over the next two decades, he became a pop culture juggernaut -- sort of a next wave Paul Lynde or Charles Nelson Reilly -- appearing on dozens of game shows and talk shows, and making cameos and doing voice work in various television and film productions. Although it was obvious he was gay, the subject was never broached.

He also teamed with Carnival to launch the annual "Cruise to Lose." (I'm assuming You Cruise, You Lose had already been trademarked!)

By 2014, though, Simmons had retreated from public life. This abrupt disappearance led to countless conspiracy theories -- some said he was being held against his will by his witchcraft-practicing housekeeper; the National Enquirer reported that he was transitioning to a woman -- all of which proved to be untrue once a wellness check revealed he simply had decided he wanted to be left alone. ("Entertainment Tonight" even got him on the phone and he assured the world he is fine, but that didn't stop the "Missing Richard Simmons" podcast from launching.) In 2016, his Beverly Hills studio -- which had long been renamed Slimmons -- closed rather unceremoniously

But thanks to YouTube, we'll always have the memories of his frizzy curls and dolphin shorts, whether it be exercising at the Campus Disco or the Sports Center in Port Charles, hawking Deal A Meal, "Sweatin' to the Oldies" or his revisiting his long-term relationship with David Letterman or side piece Howard Stern, both of whom were rather abusive.

P.S. He is hot this holiday-gift season thanks to a Chia Pet in his likeness. Buy HERE.

Asylum seekers rejoice! 

And since the pandemic began, Richard has been adding archival footage to his YouTube account.


JimmyD said...

I never knew he'd worked with Fellini!
I respect his privacy but I wish his retirement had been public. Like, a statement and the official closing of his fitness center. Too many of his beloved fans were worried for years.

Jack said...

The chia head is fantastic!

JP Aragon said...

Great post- he is a pop culture icon

Edgar_Carpenter said...

My favorite Simmons video is his song "Hairdo", I wish he'd been able to continue with that late blossoming of creativity.