What Changed Richard Simmons? The 'Fat People Die Young' Note
Richard Simmons has been a flamboyant fitness evangelist for over four decades. What makes him such a tireless fanatic? A near-death experience -- if only a theoretical one. Simmons was fat for the first two decades of his life, and a concerned someone -- we'll never know who -- told him he was going to die if he didn't change his ways. The message hit home in a big way, and Simmons changed his life. Then he made it his mission to help others change theirs.
Before he became Richard Simmons, the flamboyant dolphin short sporting, costume wearing, campy king of the workout video, he was Milton Teagle Simmons, born in New Orleans in 1948. Simmons was the child of a master of ceremonies and a traveling fan dancer and both parents were excellent cooks. Simmons was 70 pounds overweight by the time he was a freshman in high school. After high school, he attended Florida State University where he earned a BA in Art. He was not happy with his name and at the age of 11, changed it to Richard, adopting the name of his uncle, who would eventually pay his college tuition.
His Life Was Changed With A Note
He continued to gain weight, and at one point, at 5’7”, he was 268 pounds. However, despite his size, he was in demand as an actor, playing grotesques in Fellini’s Satyricon and The Clowns. He also appeared in 137 commercials. These video clips are the only evidence of his former size, as he reportedly destroyed all other images of himself from this time.
After college, he went to Italy to study art, and in 1968, he found an anonymous note on the windshield of his car which read: “Dear Richard: Fat people die young. Please don’t die.” That note led him to transform his life, first with a drastic weight loss. He starved himself, popped diet pills, tried hypnosis, had injections, and exercised obsessively. Two and half months later, he had lost 112 pounds. As Simmons said, “I ended up looking like a thin Glad bag. According to Simmons, the extreme weight loss led to hair loss, drooping skin, foul breath, and a foul mood. He returned to America in 1971 and began working as a maître d’ at a restaurant in Los Angeles but was disgusted and quit in 1975.
Beginning To Spread His Fitness Message
He opened his own exercise studio, “The Anatomy Asylum,” which originally included a salad bar called Ruffage. Simmons emphasized healthy eating, proper portions, and enjoyable exercise in a supportive atmosphere. The “Asylum” seemed to fit with his new philosophy: "Love yourself, move your body and watch your portions." In the studio, he was affable and sometimes outrageous and “The Anatomy Asylum” attracted some famous clientele. Soon he was on the talk show circuit and then had his first appearance on General Hospital in 1979. Eventually, the “Asylum” was renamed “Slimmons,” and he continued to teach classes there. The studio remained open until 2016.
The Beginning Of Celebrity
By 1981, Simmons had a syndicated half-hour TV show and had written a book, Richard Simmons’ Never-Say-Diet, which became a bestseller. In the ‘80s, there were quite a few celebrities participating in the fitness craze, but Simmons has always had his own campy style that made him an iconic figure. For example, Never-Say-Diet includes sections like “Coming to Grips With Your Hips,” and is sprinkled throughout with anecdotes from his life before weight loss. His television show included characters like the Reverend Pounds, described as “a man of the cloth—the tablecloth” and a cop who patrolled grocery stores handing out tickets to customers buying food that could pack on the pounds.
His Television Appearances
Because of Simmons almost frenetic on screen behavior, he frequently appeared on Late Night with David Letterman, with Letterman playing the straight man. He also appeared on The Howard Stern Show, as well as a number of television shows, where he appeared as himself, including Arrested Development.
Books, Videos, And More
Over the years, Simmons released a number of books, including several cookbooks, an autobiography, and an inspirational book: Richard Simmons’ Never Give Up: Inspirations, Reflections, Stories of Hope. And of course, he has released all of those exercise tapes, including the series that he was perhaps best known for: Sweatin to the Oldies. In keeping with the times, he developed a social media presence.
Reemerging After A Mysterious Disappearance
Richard Simmons left the public eye in 2014, which led to a lot of wild speculation about his whereabouts, but as people dealt with so much uncertainty in 2020 with the pandemic, Simmons YouTube and Twitter channels began airing vintage workouts to help people stay in shape while in quarantine.
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