In a city full of slender celebrities, it was a haven for the overweight, a place where it didn’t matter how old you were or how much you weighed. A place where a fitness guru with curly hair, colorful Dolfin shorts and a bedazzled tank could make crowds sweat like never before while never actually feeling like it was a workout.
After more than four decades of inspiring the masses to dance and sweat to the “oldies,” Richard Simmons’s iconic Beverly Hills, Calif., exercise studio, Slimmons, came to a close Saturday. Simmons, 68, made the decision that it was time to close the club for good, his manager announced last month. He hadn’t taught there in more than two years.
In a heartfelt note to his fans posted on Facebook, the fitness-expert-turned-celebrity wrote that after more than 40 years, he was finally taking his own advice, putting his health first and “making changes and taking time to do the things I want to do.”
Nearly 60 people, ages 25 to 94, attended the final class at Slimmons on Saturday — some traveling from as far as Toronto and San Francisco to be a part of the studio’s swan song, which concluded with a brief stretch to the Rascal Flatts song “My Wish,” “Entertainment Tonight” reported. Although Simmons wasn’t present, the studio manager read his note to those in the room.
“I have never been very good with beginnings and endings,” he wrote. “I cannot bear to be sad today. And you shouldn’t be sad either. This should be a celebration of our forty-plus years together dancin’ and sweatin.’ ”
Before selling millions of copies of his 65 exercise videos, before starring in “General Hospital” and before launching his own Emmy-award-winning talk show, Simmons got his start at this Los Angeles health club in 1974.
The self-declared “clown prince” of fitness told the Chicago Tribune in 2012 that Slimmons was his theater, the place where he could be whoever he wanted to be. He could dress like an Egyptian pharoah or as Medusa, and it wouldn’t matter.
“My job is to spin a web around all these people so they don’t know they’re working out,” Simmons said in the Chicago Tribune interview. “They aren’t going to think of their MasterCard bill, their relationships. They will just come in, have fun with me and leave in a better place.”
Simmons touted that his energetic dance routines and balanced eating programs helped millions of men and women lose weight over the years. Even in his mid-60s, he would work out for an hour and a half a day — not including teaching his classes — and eat 1,600 calories to maintain his slim, 134-pound figure.
But he wasn’t always slim. Growing up in the French quarter of New Orleans, he was surrounded by fried oyster po’ boys and jambalaya, and sold pralines on street corners to make extra cash. When he graduated from high school, he weighed 268 pounds. He tried “everything from bizarre diets to laxatives,” according to his website.
His story resonated with his fans, and he would spend hours talking on the phone with people who had written to him about their weight battles, according to a 1997 article in the St. Petersburg Times.
“Simmons really likes to hear himself talk . . . and sing,” Pamela Davis wrote in the St. Petersburg Times. “Some people see him as a clown, some see him as a savior. No matter how, you can always see him.”
He frequented radio talk shows and interviews with the media. He would pop up in 60 to 100 malls a year and travel 300 days a year, Davis wrote. He was a man who appeared to thrive in the public eye. But in recent years, Simmons lived a somewhat reclusive life.
His last public appearance was two years ago, and he had been spotted so sparingly that news outlets began speculating that he was being held hostage in his own home. A New York Daily News article published in March included conversations with friends who said Simmons stopped returning calls and emails more than two years ago, and his housekeeper was blocking access to him at home.
In telephone interviews with “Entertainment Tonight” and the “Today” show, Simmons refuted the claims and told his fans he was enjoying the time by himself, Justin Wm. Moyer wrote in The Post.
“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.”
In June, Simmons was hospitalized for what some media outlets initially called “bizarre behavior.” In a statement, he later said he was simply dehydrated.
In his Facebook post Saturday, he assured fans that he is in good health and happy. “No one has ever been able to tell me what to do and the same is true today,” he wrote.
More than 1,200 people left comments on his post, reflecting on their memories with his videos and thanking him for — in some cases — helping them drastically change their lifestyles. One woman wrote that Simmons showed her how to get back up after battling chronic pain and chemotherapy treatments. Another wrote about his presence in her childhood — when she was 5 years old and would come home to her grandmother’s house after school to join her in “sweating it out” to his dance routines on television. “The joy you gave me as a child spending time with my Gram is priceless,” the fan wrote.
“Be as good to yourself as you’ve been to millions of people over the years,” another comment read. “You changed thousands of lives and were directly responsible for hundreds of millions of smiles and laughs. You are awesome.”
Another wrote that he felt the world needed more “sincere, caring people” like Simmons. “Don’t we need more of that? Perhaps now more than ever? Richard, do exactly as you feel you need to do. And thank you for helping so many others physically and emotionally.”
In his note, Simmons thanked his fans and encouraged them to “turn this ending into a new beginning.”
“Truly, you don’t need me to tell you what to do anymore,” he wrote. “You know. It’s within you. It’s in your heart and it’s been there all along. So get up and get moving!”
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