Are we close to actually finding out what happened to Richard Simmons?
The fitness icon has been missing for three years, despite the efforts of many — myself included — to crack the case. Now, in a compelling new podcast series, former Daily Show producer Dan Taberski might be close to drawing Simmons out of exile. If the fact that Missing Richard Simmons just hit No. 1 on the iTunes charts is any indication, it seems Taberski is not the only one interested in seeing how the story ends.
Theories abound about this Hollywood mystery: Is Simmons’ housekeeper using witchcraft to control him? Is he “drugged and in bed,” as one source speculated to me last year? Is he simply taking a break from public life, as per the official word out of his camp (which no one believes)? Interest in the search has even spurred comment from Donald Trump, who said last year that he wanted to “get him out” of his Hollywood Hills mansion.
Taberski’s ideal finale for the six-part series is resolution in the form of an interview with Simmons. And while that hasn’t happened yet, he sounds cryptically optimistic, saying that he is “hopeful, in that things are stirring.”
“I want this to penetrate because that’s the only way it gets to him,” Taberski said. “We’re coming from a good place.”
Taberski’s interest in the story is more than merely journalistic. In 2012, he took a class at Simmons’ Beverly Hills gym, and pitched a documentary about his life. Simmons said no, but the two became friends, and Taberski became a semi-regular guest at Simmons’ home. He developed the same affection for the workout guru as nearly everyone around him, pegging Simmons as an atypically empathetic and caring person. Then, when Simmons vanished into his home in 2014, Taberski was one of countless friends left to wonder and worry.
After the first installment of the podcast dropped, the response from Simmons’ disciples was exactly what I found after my story ran in the Daily News a year ago: near-universal support and even gratitude. Before he became a Halloween costume and punchline, Simmons spent years saving lives, helping people suffering from obesity to regain control of their health and self-worth.
The one time he re-emerged — in a phone interview last year with The Today Show in response to my story — served only to sow deeper concern among loved ones. Speaking in a soft, defeated voice and declining to appear on camera, Simmons made an unconvincing case that he was fine.
After airing the interview, the show came back in-house. “He says that he just wants to take time for himself,” Savannah Guthrie said. “That he’s enjoying being alone, that he’s enjoying being in his own space. … I think he’s just ready to step out [of the spotlight].”
Matt Lauer responded with a solemn nod. “Let’s take him at his word,” he said.
“Exactly,” Guthrie added. “Exactly.”
But when I was racing around Los Angeles last winter, hunting down everyone I could find who had known Simmons, I never once heard “leave him alone.” It was always “please find out what’s happened to him.”
That’s a key distinction, and the reason why Taberski is working so aggressively to draw Simmons out. Let’s see if he gets the finale he’s hoping for.