For the past few weeks, I’ve been obsessed with Missing Richard Simmons, the podcast phenomenon that has hovered near the top of the iTunes chart since February. After learning about the pod from numerous, mostly positive media profiles, I started tuning in to Missing Richard Simmons around the time the third episode premiered. Pretty quickly, it became something between a hate-listen and a source of genuine curiosity. On one hand, I find the arc of Richard Simmons’ life and career to be incredibly fascinating — it’s like Citizen Kane in short-shorts with a potential What Ever Happened To Baby Jane?-style twist ending. On the other hand, I was constantly annoyed by the transparent machinations of the pod’s narrator and protagonist, Dan Taberski, a documentary filmmaker who claims over and over, with increasing disingenuousness in the series’ six episodes, that Missing Richard Simmons was a “grand gesture” to a supposed friend.
For those that haven’t heard the podcast: Missing Richard Simmons is a six-episode series about the “disappearance” of Simmons from public life since 2014. Taberski, a former producer for The Daily Show, became an acquaintance of the fitness guru after working out at Simmons’ Beverly Hills exercise studio, Slimmons. Taberski and Simmons apparently had even discussed making a documentary about Simmons’ life. But those plans were scuttled when Simmons mysteriously withdrew from public life three years ago. So Taberski did the next best thing: He made an unauthorized podcast in which he investigates various conspiracy theories about Simmons’ retirement, including a story forwarded by Simmons’ former masseuse about how Simmons’ housekeeper is holding her patron hostage with spells and witchcraft.
Much of the ground covered in Missing Richard Simmons was first reported in an engrossing New York Daily News article from 2016 by Andy Martino. I remember being riveted by Martino’s story, reading with my mouth literally agape. Not many Americans have lived a life as rich, amazing, and strange as Simmons, who grew up a lonely, obese child from the poor side of New Orleans and then proceeded to build an empire out of Deal-A-Meal cards and Sweatin’ To The Oldies tapes. (Oh and he also appeared as an extra in Fellini’s Satyricon along the way.) That Simmons might’ve ended up imprisoned inside his planation-style L.A. mansion — like Michael Jackson, Elvis Presley, or Charles Foster Kane — only seemed to add to the mythic nature of Simmons’ life.
But did that actually happen? Missing Richard Simmons strongly suggests that it did until, oddly, it swiftly changes course in the final episode.