'80s Workout Video Stars: Where Are They Now?

Fads | January 18, 2019

Raquel Welch released 'Total Beauty And Fitness' in 1984; Heather Lockler's 'Your Personal Workout' came out in 1990. Sources: Photo by Tony Kent/Sygma via Getty Images; eBay

A new sort of celebrity emerged in the '80s: workout video stars. The fitness craze had been bubbling under since the late 1960s and early 1970s (supplanting the weight loss fad), but with personalities like Jane Fonda, Denise Austin, Richard Simmons, and Arnold Schwarzenegger leading the charge, fitness videos became big business in the Reagan era. It helped that video cartridges and VCRs themselves (remember the question "VHS or Beta?") were becoming regular features in American homes as well. It wasn't only about the workout -- the '80s workout video genre created its own look, one of big hair, sweatbands, revealing leotards and leg warmers/slouch socks with high-top Reeboks. Singer Olivia Newton-John even took the workout video look to the top of the pop chart (in five different countries) thanks to the exercise-themed music video for her 1981 single "Physical."

Some of the '80s workout video stars who so fashionably set us on the course to sweaty physical perfection (right?)  are still in the biz, while others have moved on.

Women All Across The U.S. Caught The Workout Video Bug In The '80s

Source: (liketotally80s.com)

Step touch, one, two three… workout routines were not necessarily choreographed and designed to burn calories and shape that mid-section but rather to make it look fun and easy. Most videos featured at least one and sometimes several beautiful women with toned physiques and golden tans. They were completely made up from head to toe with brightly colored and high cut leotards worn with pantyhose, flawless makeup, perfectly teased (and big) hair, polished fingernails, not to mention a spectacular smile plastered on their faces. They actually made exercising look glamorous. Besides… exercising to music was a cool new fad!

It wasn’t just women who were crazy about the workout video phenomenon. Men were just as interested, if not more so, and who could blame them? The VCR had ushered in an entirely new way to watch TV. Interestingly, many of the top fitness video gurus were truly dedicated to the concept of working out and shaped the fitness industry as we know it today. 

Denise Austin Is The Michael Jordan Of '80s Workout Video Stars

Denise Austin. Source: (medicaregranny.com)

Denise Austin was one of the fitness celebrities that pioneered the '80 fitness video trend. For some it was just that… a trend. For Austin, it was and is a way of life, and nobody has been as prolific or ever-present. She launched her career in the ’80 after getting a degree in physical education. After hosting The Jack LaLanne Show in 1981, she ended up with her own workout show and 2 workout videos to her credit by 1982. To date, she has released over 100 workout videos and DVDs as well as several books. She is still going strong and considered one of the top fitness celebrities, having expanded her areas of expertise into nutrition and wellness.

Denise Austin Had Old-School Fitness Cred

Denise Austin with Jack LaLanne in 1981. Source: facebook.com/deniseaustin; twitter.com/deniseaustin

While many of the '80s fitness stars seemed to come out of nowhere to achieve their sweaty fame, Denise Austin's connection to mentor Jack LaLanne made her the Chosen One. When she joined Jack's show as co-host in 1981, it was the longest-running fitness program in the country, having started on local Seattle TV in 1955. LaLanne himself was in his late 60s (he would live to be 96). Austin built on the fitness celebrity idea that LaLanne had invented, raising her brand profile as the fitness expert on NBC's Today Show in the '80s, and, later, as Chairman of the President's Council on Sports, Fitness and Nutrition. 

Jane Fonda's Star Power Made Her A Spandex Superstar

Jane Fonda. Source: (articlesvalley.com)

Two-time Oscar winner Jane Fonda was already well known when she crashed the workout video craze in the '80s. She employed her celebrity status to release workout videos as a means to further her activism. The money generated from her videos was largely earmarked for the New Left and the political campaign of her then-husband Tom Hayden. That isn’t to say that she didn’t value what she was doing. Fonda suffered from bulimia at one time and said that she wanted to be a role model to women who were struggling with similar issues. She claimed that she wanted to "create more realistic, less anxiety-ridden standards."

Though Jane Fonda declared her retirement from acting in 1992, she continued to be a celebrity fitness guru. In 2005, she returned to the screen. She can most recently be seen -- looking ridiculously good for a woman in her '80s -- on the Netflix series Grace & Frankie, in which she co-stars with Lily Tomlin.

Women Weren’t The Only Fitness Fanatics Making Workout Videos

Richard Simmons. Source: (realityblurred.com)

Richard Simmons is a fitness junkie who has always been hugely passionate about helping others succeed. He has been recognized as a major influence in fitness culture since the late '70s. Simmons successfully made a name for himself with his over-the-top, bubbly disposition and flashy workout clothes. He created over 20 fitness workout videos, including the unforgettable "Sweatin' To The Oldies" series, and is cherished by his fans. Simmons retreated from public life around 2014, causing much speculation about his personal life, and even inspiring the podcast "Missing Richard Simmons." The truth seems to be less exciting than the rumor -- after 40 years in the business, Simmons hung up the short-shorts and retired like anyone does in their mid-60s. Now 70, Simmons makes occasional posts to his Facebook page.

Arnold Schwarzenegger Wanted To Pump You Up

Arnold Schwarzenegger. Source (smalljoys.net)

Arnold Schwarzenegger is known worldwide for his legendary bodybuilding career, and is credited with being one of the most influential physical fitness icons of all time. He started in the ‘70s as a bodybuilder and eventually joined the ranks of those in the commercial physical fitness industry. In 1982, Schwarzenegger released Shape Up With Arnold, a workout video he produced with Rachel McLish. In the grand story of Schwarzenegger's career, his workout video stardom just one chapter (though the "Hans and Franz" parody sketches from Saturday Night Live live on) -- well overshadowed by his success as an action-movie star and politician.

Three's Company Star Suzanne Somers Was The Thigh Mistress

Suzanne Somers. Source: (kiwireport.com)

Suzanne Somers, like Fonda, was already a celebrity (she played Chrissy Snow on the sitcom Three's Company) when she surfaced as a fitness enthusiast. She shamelessly plugged the ThighMaster for two decades, releasing a DVD tutorial and workout video. Somers hasn't acted in nearly two decades, but still endorses the ThighMaster today. 

Tamilee Webb Opened The School Of Hard Cheeks

Buns Of Steel. Source: (bingapis.com)

Tamilee Webb created the famous Buns Of Steel and Abs Of Steel program for television in the ‘80s. Buns Of Steel is a series of 22 videos… pretty impressive. Like Denise Austin, Tamilee is still selling fitness, having moved her presence online.

Workout programs and videos have come a long way since the '80s. Once considered a fad, workout videos rooted themselves in American culture and are still going strong.

Tags: 1980s Fashion | Arnold Schwarzenegger | Buns Of Steel | Denise Austin | Fitness | Jane Fonda | Jane Fonda Workout Video | Olivia Newton John | Remember This?... | Richard Simmons | Spandex | Suzanne Somers | The 1980s | Then And Now | Thighmaster | VCRs

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Rebeka Knott


Rebeka grew up in the 1960’s & 1970’s and has always subscribed to the theory that a positive attitude will take you far! She is a wife and mother of 3 with a fun-loving spirit, believing that family and relationships are invaluable.