Why You Rarely Hear About Richard Simmons Nowadays

It's a scientific fact (probably): Anyone who doesn't like Richard Simmons just has no soul. For decades, his over-the-top energy was served up with a healthy helping of can-do attitude, crazy clothes, and — perhaps most importantly — kindness. It was all with the goal of getting us ordinary people on our feet, dancing, and Sweatin' to the Oldies. And it worked: Dancing along with Simmons made exercise fun, in a way that trying to keep up with muscular, chiseled people who didn't even break a sweat while you tried not to die was definitely the opposite of fun.

Simmons, fans knew, was right there with them. The son of vaudeville performers and a New Orleans native, Simmons struggled with his weight for a long time. He weighed 200 pounds when he was in eighth grade, and he knew what it was like to have food as a dangerous friend. He decided to do something about it, and help others do something about their health, too.

Simmons was wildly popular in the 1980s, and when Men's Health talked to him in 2012, the then 63-year-old was still teaching classes, making appearances, and wearing his famous Dolfin shorts. For decades, he was out there: singing, motivating, and dancing. Then, in 2014, he disappeared. Why? Let's look at what we do — and don't — know.

Richard Simmons dropped out of the public eye in 2014

It's unclear just when Richard Simmons dropped out of the public eye, but sources do agree that it happened sometime in early 2014. According to Entertainment Tonight, his last public appearance was at a California fundraiser that took place in January, while longtime friend and filmmaker Dan Taberski says (via Rolling Stone) that it was February 15 when he didn't show up to teach a class at his gym, Slimmons. That, Taberski says, was the first of a long series of no-shows that fans and friends found incredibly weird. He no longer visited the gym he'd spent so much time at, he cut off contact with everyone, and was even conspicuously absent at the funerals of friends.

It had people incredibly worried, and in 2015, TMZ reported that the Los Angeles Police Department had visited Simmons to do a welfare check. He was described as not just perfectly fine, but they said "he couldn't have been nicer and more gracious." He told them he hadn't been at the gym because he had people looking after it and wasn't needed there, and that he just needed "to spend time with myself."

Was that it, or was there more to it?

Here's why it's a huge deal

In order to talk about Richard Simmons' retreat from the world, it's important to talk about why it's such a weird thing. For decades, Simmons made reaching out to people — especially people who had no one else — his life. Simmons took a very personal interest in people in a way that went way beyond getting them to exercise. Dan Taberski told Vogue that, for years, he would wake up at 4 a.m. and start making phone calls. He'd make as many as 50 a day, to check in on people he knew needed a friendly ear and help get to the root of their problems behind their struggles with weight.

He cared — a lot.

When tour buses drove by his LA home, he told Men's Health that he loved going out and talking with people: "I live for those things. Those things make me feel good." He spent countless hours responding to fan mail and emails: "Every time I meet somebody, I ask myself, 'How can I help this person? What more can I say? What song can I sing them? What blessing can they tell me about that can keep them on the right place in their mind?'" Many of them he met at his gym in Beverly Hills: Up until the day he disappeared, he was still teaching regular classes there on every Tuesday, Thursday, and Saturday. He went from being America's friendliest social butterfly to simply vanishing ... overnight.

There have been a ton of rumors about what's going on

In talking about why Richard Simmons retreated from the outside world he'd been so involved with for decades, it's important to acknowledge some rumors — and debunk them.

There are two massive ones that started circulating in 2017, and the first was a claim that he was transitioning into a woman. According to his representative Michael Catalano, that was 100% not true. At the time, he told People that he had just seen Simmons at his home, and he was still healthy, trim, sporting a salt-and-pepper beard, and definitely not transitioning.

The other rumor is one that People says first went public on Dan Taberski's podcast, "Missing Richard Simmons." In the third part of the six-part series, Simmons' friend and one-time masseuse claimed that he was being held prisoner in his own home. Reports from the New York Daily News went as far as to suggest witchcraft was somehow involved, and he was being held there by his longtime housekeeper, Teresa Reveles.

It was an accusation that Simmons' rep Tom Estey debunked as a "complete load of crap," and Simmons himself had confirmed as much in a 2016 phone call with Entertainment Tonight. In the call, he referred to them as "an old married couple," and explained his disappearance like this: "It was time for me to take some time."

Richard Simmons lost his beloved dog

Anyone who has lost a beloved pet knows that it's a different kind of grief. The hole they leave in our lives is raw, painful, and sometimes, it just doesn't heal.

Richard Simmons absolutely loved his dogs: According to National Purebred Dog Day, he was so devoted to his Dalmatians that when he needed to be away from them, he would make sure he always called them daily, just to sing and talk to them. His favorite — because every parent has a favorite, and anyone who says otherwise is lying — was Hattie (pictured), and when the nearly 20-year-old dog died in 2014, he was devastated.

Dan Taberski, the host of the "Missing Richard Simmons" podcast, told ET that Hattie had been not only his favorite dog, but his last surviving dog. Her death happened just before he disappeared from the public eye, and Taberski says Simmons had reached out to him via email after it happened. Simmons wrote: "It's very hard for me right now. See you soon."

Richard Simmons spent some time fighting rumors in court

Richard Simmons may have started avoiding public appearances in 2014, but he did become mired in a legal battle in 2017. According to The Hollywood Reporter, Simmons sued the National Enquirer and a series of other media outlets for running stories saying that he'd had a series of procedures done, and that he was transitioning to female.

The suit condemned the publications for cashing in on a sensationalized story, saying (in part), "Principles of freedom of speech and press may protect their prerogative to mock and degrade the LGBTQ community. But freedom to speak is not freedom to defame."

It seems like it might have been an open-and-shut case: Clearly, they had published stories that just weren't true. But shockingly, Simmons lost the case when the judge ruled that being misidentified as transgender wasn't harmful enough to his reputation to warrant a win. The case was dismissed, and NBC News later reported that Simmons was ordered to pay $130,000 to the publications that he had sued, in order to cover part of their legal fees.

In Richard Simmons' own words

While Richard Simmons has been largely silent, he has reached out a few times to explain where he's been, and why everyone's favorite exercise guru has been so quiet. He also wanted to reassure everyone that there's nothing to worry about.

In 2016, he called Today to say that he was perfectly fine, that he definitely wasn't being held hostage, and explained that he had voluntarily stepped out of the spotlight he'd been in for so long. He wanted some time to himself, he said, to be a private citizen, to rest, and take care of himself after a lifetime of trying to help others. "It certainly has taken its toll on me, so it was not like over a day, it was just over some time."

It seemed as though he just needed a little time to live a more private life, and he echoed that idea the following year. In 2017, his Facebook page was updated with a photo and a message that read (in part): "Well, by now you know that I'm not 'missing,' just a little under the weather. I'm sure I will be feeling good and back home in a couple of days. This has reminded me that when you need help you can't be afraid to reach out and ask for it. ... I reached out and I hope you will too. ... Just knowing you care has already made me feel better. Hope to see you again soon!"

Richard Simmons' fitness studio/gym closed

Even before Richard Simmons was a major television star, he had his own Los Angeles exercise studio. He opened Slimmons in 1974, says ABC News, and even though he was fond of saying (via Men's Health), "If I have to die, I want to combust in the middle of one of my classes," the studio officially closed in 2016.

There was no celebration and no fanfare, and ET confirms that Simmons himself wasn't there to teach the final class. Around 60 people were there for the closing, hour-long workout session, and Simmons reached out only through Facebook with a message that was read by his representative, Michael Catalano, who was there in person. It read (in part): "... while others may not always be kind to you, you must be kind to yourself. ... I am finally taking my own advice. ... I will not see you today because I am not very good at endings. ... Please know that I am in good health and I am happy. ... I cannot bear to be sad today. And you shouldn't be sad, either."

Catalano also confirmed that yes, it had been Simmons' decision — and his alone — to close the studio that had been such an important part of his life for more than 40 years. Why? "He just hasn't taught there in over two years."

Richard Simmons had a knee replacement

Richard Simmons had only been out of the public eye for a few months when Erin Murphy of "Bewitched" fame tweeted this seemingly telling statement: "Thinking about my pal Richard Simmons, who isn't doing too well."

That led to an outpouring of support, with commenters wondering what was going on with him. According to ET, it went back to a knee injury that led to him having a knee replacement. Simmons wrote that the operation "was very difficult for me," and that "I have really just been taking it easy."

There were also reports that it may have just been the start of Simmons' knee problems, and there were rumors that he was going to need to have a second knee replacement for the other troublesome joint. That, his manager and representative Michael Catalano seemed to confirm, had proved to be a massive struggle for him. Simmons himself posted on Facebook: "I have had a tough time dealing with this injury, as it is keeping me from doing what I truly love to do and that is teach classes around the world."

He's been candid about struggles with depression

Richard Simmons may be a national treasure that needs to be protected at all costs, but the world hasn't always been as kind to him as he's been to the world. In 2017, longtime friend Dan Taberski told Vogue, "People like him become punch lines."

Simmons has made mention of struggles with depression before he vanished, and when Taberski interviewed his friends and family for his "Missing Richard Simmons" podcast (via MarketWatch), he found there were many of them who suspected that his struggle continued, and was behind his disappearance. In his memoir (via Today), Simmons wrote about the scars left by bullying. "When you're an overweight kid and you're made fun of and you're put down, some of that stuff never leaves you. It always sort of is like a shadow, like Peter Pan."

When Simmons spoke with Men's Health in 2012, he talked a bit about how invested in people he got. He took their unhappiness and their failures on himself, and just as he celebrated victories with them, he mourned losses, too. That's a heavy burden to bear. He said, "When the king gets depressed, he doesn't call for his wife. He doesn't call for the cook. He calls for the court jester. ... I'm the clown you take out of the box and wind up when you need a good laugh. And then, when you're done with me, I go back in my box."

Richard Simmons was hospitalized with severe stomach issues

In April of 2017, ABC News reported that Richard Simmons was in the hospital. According to what his representative, Michael Catalano, had to say, he had been suffering from severe indigestion and stomach issues for a few days, and had been convinced to go to a carefully undisclosed hospital for treatment. Catalano stressed that he was on the mend and expected to be back on his feet in no time, echoing previous statements suggesting that he just needed a little time to himself. Catalano also said, however, that a licensing deal he'd signed a couple weeks prior was definitely going ahead.

Vanity Fair reported that Simmons had signed a deal with Prominent Brand + Talent that would allow his image and name to be used "on motivational and inspirational products," but details were scarce. Catalano confirmed that, yes, Simmons had been personally involved in the negotiation of the deal, but when asked if it meant he was going to be ending his three-year-long retreat, he wasn't sure: "All I can say, at least for now, is it is possible."

Simmons ultimately didn't make his return to the public stage.

Richard Simmons' brother gave a statement

Richard Simmons talked about his family a bit in a 2012 interview with Men's Health, saying that he had always been extremely close to both his parents — who had passed away, both at 87 years of age — and his brother. He said that he considered himself incredibly fortunate to have such a good relationship with his sibling, and in 2017, Lenny Simmons spoke on the "Missing Richard Simmons" podcast (via People).

He confirmed that while he was still in regular contact with his brother, he wasn't entirely sure what was going on otherwise. They spoke on the phone every week and had gotten together for Christmas, but when asked about his public disappearance, Lenny also said, "I'm not too sure why he made that decision ... He hasn't told me. He really has not confided in me."

While he also confirmed that, yes, he simply wanted to live a life out of the public spotlight, he suggested there was more to it. He was healthy, but happy? "Happy is kind of a hard word to describe."

Richard Simmons started posting again during COVID

When COVID ruined pretty much everything starting in 2020, something weird happened: Richard Simmons kind of came back ... but not really.

Starting near the beginning of the outbreak, content started to be posted regularly to Simmons' YouTube channel. There was a big "but," though — it was all old content. Simmons didn't comment directly to Fox News, but a rep did say that "We have had an overwhelming request for Richard to return in some way as a comfort to all dealing with the pandemic." So, they decided to give the public what they wanted ... again, sort of. Simmons himself was still conspicuously not present, although People says they were given an exclusive statement that read (in part): "I am very excited that my groundbreaking fitness series of 'Sweatin' to the Oldies' still is so relevant and popular and I hope many new fans will discover these timeless classics."

It was also reported that they were working on a new line of merchandise, but by that point, Simmons hadn't been seen at all for three years. PopCulture says that the only in-person sighting of him in recent memory was a brief glimpse as he returned home from his stay in the hospital in April of 2017, but no one had seen him since.

There are more questions than answers ... maybe

Ultimately, the mystery of just what is going on with Richard Simmons leaves more questions than answers, with E! suggesting that it's entirely possible the messages that have been released aren't even coming from him. After Simmons' short 2017 hospital stay, his Facebook page was updated with a photo and a message thanking everyone for their concern, but the photo was actually more than three years old at the time it was posted. That led to questions of whether or not he was actually updating his social media at all.

It's put everyone who cares for him in something of an odd position. On one hand, it's admirable to make sure he's not being held against his will, or being taken advantage of. Elder abuse is very real and very horrifying, after all — but if the statements are true and he just sort of wants to be left alone to live a private life for the first time in decades, should things like the "Missing Richard Simmons" podcast even exist?

Vox describes Dan Taberski's podcast — in which he interviews Simmons' friends, family, and even manager — as having the potential to be seen as nothing "more than badgering and stalking a man who clearly wanted to be left alone." According to the LAPD, his disappearance really is as simple as wanting to lead a quieter life, but still, not everyone is convinced.

TMZ has quite the theory

In 2022, TMZ released a documentary made about the results of their investigation into Richard Simmons' whereabouts, and it was quite the story. According to the New York Post, "TMZ Investigates: What Really Happened to Richard Simmons" claimed that he was forced to remain cooped up at home because of complications from a birth defect that had ultimately helped shape his entire life.

TMZ's managing editor, Fabian Garcia, explained in the documentary, "Something that happened to him at birth is directly connected to his disappearance — a birth defect that significantly affected one of his legs. He was born without a full set of bones in his foot, and it causes physical and emotional problems."

TMZ's Harvey Levin went on Fox, which, along with Hulu, streamed the program, to talk about the documentary and said that finding out the truth wasn't that hard: They had gone to people who knew him and police that have responded to concerned calls about him. He was confident in their findings, saying, "It's baffling to me that it's taken this long, but I really do think we have answers."

Richard Simmons broke his silence in 2022

After years of speculation, Richard Simmons finally issued a statement on his whereabouts, his health, and his fans — a message that came on the heels of the TMZ documentary that investigated exactly what had happened to the exercise guru.

But strangely, even though Simmons' apparent Facebook post got more than 40,000 reactions and 6,000 comments, things were still pretty vague. The post consisted of a smiling emoji holding a "Thank you!" banner, and the text: "Thank you, everyone, for your kindness and love! (heart). Love, Richard."

That's ... not really shedding too much light on anything, but Simmons' spokesperson, Tom Estey, offered a little bit more to the New York Post. He said, "Richard is eternally grateful for the continuous outpouring of love and gratitude he has received from across the Globe. He is happy, healthy, and living the life he has chosen to live."

Estey went on to confirm that yes, it had been Simmons himself who had posted the short message to Facebook, and while there's no way to know whether or not he read any of the thousands of comments, fans were hopeful that this wasn't going to lead to more years of radio silence.