The voice on the line sounded a little weary — perhaps worn out from so much “Sweatin’ to the Oldies” — but was still unmistakeable. Richard Simmons, 67-year-old fitness wizard, was calling “Entertainment Tonight” for a wellness check.
“I’m very beloved,” Simmons said. “People have always been good to me and I just want everyone to know that I love them very much. But it’s time right now for Richard Simmons to take care of Richard Simmons.”
Simmons — no stranger to “ET” after decades in the spotlight as America’s health coach — wasn’t hawking a new book or self-motivation series. After a report surfaced that he was being held against his will in his Hollywood home, Simmons, who has not been seen in public for two years, just wanted the world to know he’s okay.
“People have been wonderful to me,” Simmons said in a telephone interview. “They’ve accepted me, they’ve loved me, and I appreciate all of them, and I will for the rest of my life.” He added: “Well, one day, I will come back. But right now I’m just busy doing some of the wonderful things that I’m doing. I’m writing a new book and just doing things for me.”
The unusual interview came the day after a story, “The Haunted Twilight of Richard Simmons,” appeared in the New York Daily News. It included conversations with friends of Simmons, named and unnamed, who say “Simmons stopped returning calls and emails more than two years ago, behavior that is highly out of character, and his housekeeper is blocking access to him at home,” as author Andy Martino put it.
To refute the allegation that he was a captive in his home, Simmons also called the “Today” show from his home.
“I’m doing good,” Simmons said. “My health is good, and I’m just sort of enjoying the day.”
As Simmons was also a frequent guest on “Today,” its hosts seemed particularly worried about his welfare. Simmons said they had no reason to be concerned.
“No one is holding me in my house as a hostage,” Simmons said via phone. “You know, I do what I want to do as I’ve always done. So people just should sort of just believe what I have to say, because, like, I’m Richard Simmons.”
Simmons was asked about the allegation that Teresa Reveles, his longtime housekeeper, was somehow controlling him. (Reveles did not respond to efforts to contact her, the New York Daily News reported.)
“That’s just very silly,” Simmons, who did not appear on camera, said. “Teresa Reveles has been with me for 30 years. It’s almost like we’re a married couple.”
So why the disappearing act?
“I just sort of wanted to be a little bit of a loner for a little while,” Simmons said. “You know, I had hurt my knee … and I had some problems with it. And then the other knee started to give me trouble. Because I’ve taught, like, thousands and thousands of classes, and you know, right now I just want to sort of just take care of me.” He added: “I just really don’t want to do anything. You know, I just don’t want to be traveling anymore. It certainly has taken its toll on me.”
Simmons also made clear that yes, he goes outside, even if no one has seen him.
“I take walks,” he said. “And I take drives. And I just go out and get some fresh air and I have a gym upstairs and I’ve been working out in my gym. And I’ve just sort of enjoyed this time by myself.”
Matt Lauer, for one, appeared ready to believe Simmons. “Let’s take him at his word,” Lauer said.
The New York Daily News told a very different story. Martino detailed the experience of a Simmons associate named Mauro Oliveira, “a visual artist who was also Simmons’ masseur and former assistant.” Oliveira said he went to see Simmons in April 2014 and was frozen out. As Martino wrote:
“Mauro, we can no longer see each other,” Simmons told him in a quiet, defeated voice. …
“What’s going on, Richard?” Oliveira asked. “Why are you saying that?”
“I don’t know,” Simmons replied. “I just want to be by myself, and I want to be in the house, and we’re never going to see each other again.” …
“Let’s talk it over,” Oliveira said. “I want to sit here, and make sure you’ll be OK. Let’s go upstairs, I’ll give you a massage and relax you.”
Simmons called up to Teresa Reveles, his live-in housekeeper of nearly three decades. “Mauro is going upstairs with me,” he said.
“No, no, no!” Reveles shouted from the second floor, according to Oliveira. “Get out! Get out!”
Oliveira looked at his friend, who told him in a soft voice, “You’ve gotta go.”
Oliveira leaned in toward Simmons. “Is she controlling your life now?”
As Oliveira tells it, Simmons looked down, and with one resigned word confirmed his worst suspicions: “Yes.” This was the last time he saw his friend.
The New York Daily News did raise questions about Oliveira’s reliability, noting that he is the author of an unusual self-published e-book that presents a fictionalized version of his relationship with Simmons, and that he thought Simmons’s mental state was affected by “black magic.” However, Oliveira was not the only one to go on record expressing concerns about Simmons.
“I’m concerned because it is not like him to not respond to me,” Betty Wilson, an advocate in Los Angeles for people with disabilities, the commissioner of the California Commission on Disability Access, and Simmons’s friend for two decades, told Martino. “… I mean, personally respond. I have sent many emails. No response.”
One of Simmons’s representatives, however, told People that his client was well.
“As I have stated in the past, these claims are untrue and preposterous,” Tom Estey said. “Richard, after 40 years of being in the spotlight, is now simply taking a break from the public eye and working behind the scenes to continue to help those millions of people worldwide in need of his assistance and on several projects to be announced soon.”
“The Haunted Twilight of Richard Simmons” did not appear without prelude. Though he’s active on social media, tabloid reports that Simmons was depressed following a knee injury — upset after the death of his dog, sporting a full beard, and the victim of elder abuse — surfaced as early as January 2015. Talking to “Today,” Simmons, who struggled with his weight as a youth, also noted he was not always as happy as he seemed.
“Survival has always, you know, meant a lot when you’re an overweight kid and you’re made fun of and you’re put down,” he said. “Some of that stuff never leaves you … it always sort of is like a shadow, like Peter Pan.”
But there was no reason to worry, Simmons said.
“If all the people that are worrying about me, I want to tell them that I love them with my whole heart and soul,” he said. “And that not to worry, Richard’s fine. You haven’t seen the last of me. I’ll come back, and I’ll come back strong.”