I love Richard Simmons. Back before “Richard Simmons disappearance” was a common Google search, I had the opportunity to meet and interview the exercise icon prior to his disappearance from the public eye. Much that I learned about the man who brought us “Sweatin’ to the Oldies” and “Deal-a-Meal” came not from the actual interview, but, rather, from circumstances surrounding our meeting.
Younger readers may not remember Richard Simmons. Those of us who were children of the 70s or 80s can’t forget him. Regardless, the guy was endlessly energetic, likable, and humorous. Check out this clip of him on “Whose Line Is It, Anyway?” with Drew Carey. Hysterical!
I had coordinated the interview through his publicist, and it was to occur at the local TV studio while he was passing through my hometown. I was there ahead of time, eager to interview Richard for my college newspaper, for which I penned a fitness column, The Body Shop. When I arrived, his entourage seemed quite surprised to see me, with someone having dropped the ball in putting me on Mr. Simmons’ agenda. A representative informed me that the man I sought had a full schedule and was about to leave for another venue. I pleaded with them, citing the publicist’s name and the fact that I’d taken the afternoon off from my college classes to conduct the interview and that I’d hate to return empty handed. “Okay. Let us ask him,” his representative said, attempting to appease a very disappointed me.
She soon returned with good news: “Mr. Simmons will make time for your interview.” I was both relieved and elated. I met Richard inside the studio, where he was dressed in his trademark pink tank top adorned with sequins. The interview was a remarkable experience. His demeanor bordered on manic–his passion for helping others was so real, so palpable. He even cried at one point when describing a morbidly obese individual who passed away before he could meet him. At no time did I feel rushed, and Richard was very generous with his time.
I came away from that interview a bigger fan of Richard Simmons and his work. His public persona was not a shtick, I learned. He was sincere, passionate, altruistic… He was the real deal. What you see is what you get, and you simply could not ask for a more genuine person. He didn’t have to take time from his busy schedule to meet for an interview for a student newspaper–but he did.
Not infrequently, I am reminded of how Richard made me feel important that day and how he invested in me. It was a tiny gesture with an exponential impact. Now, I find myself investing in young people every day as a professor of exercise science.
What follows is the interview from that day. I hope you enjoy it.
Before you assume that Richard Simmons has nothing to offer you, realize that perhaps he has some wisdom that you can pass along to a friend or relative struggling with obesity.
GP: For the morbidly obese, what do you recommend first: to begin exercising, to modify their diet, or to attempt both simultaneously?
RS: Most morbidly obese people can’t exercise. The focal point has to be the chair aerobics–things done in a chair just for the upper body just to keep the circulating going, But mainly, it really is the food. If you’re not moving, you’re not burning a lot of calories, and so you don’t need a whole lot of calories. Most people really don’t plan their meals. For the person who is morbidly obese, who cannot get on a regular exercise program, they really have to focus on eating breakfast– not skipping it — and eating lunch, and having dinner early. Nutrition has a lot to do with how you lose the weight effectively.
GP: So you believe that folks should start off moderately rather than “gung ho?”
RS: Well… people should start off slow but work out daily. I would have a very obese person get in a pool and move their arms and legs for 15 minutes a day. Most people who are obese don’t want to get into a bathing suit. But that’s the best exercise in the whole world! It’s just that it’s very difficult to get them to do that.
GP: With the recent discovery of the obesity gene, do you feel that many obese individuals deserve more compassion, or do they simply need to work more diligently?
RS: Well I think this whole thing about genes and heredity is not an excuse. Your family tree could be loaded with fat cells, but it’s not an excuse. In the twenty-one years I’ve been doing this, I have never met a person who couldn’t lose the weight. It’s just like the woman who blames it on a hysterectomy or pregnancy. I don’t know anybody who can’t lose the weight, it just takes effort. I was supposed to meet an 800 pound man tomorrow… he died two days ago. His family was gonna bring him out, but God took him. (tearfully) I didn’t get to meet that man. I must lose five or six people per week just because they don’t have the commitment.
GP: What is your inspiration?
RS: My total inspiration is the people. I talk with 50 to 100 people a day. That gives me worth.
GP: If our readers wished to purchase your Deal-a-Meal plan for themselves or their loved ones, where could they obtain it?
RS: It’s in K-Marts and Wal-Marts and Hills. Really, it’s no big miracle. It’s just about cutting your portions. I was raised with a Lazy Susan [a revolving cabinet] that was like the Indianapolis Speedway. Food is very accessible, and that’s why there are so many overweight people.
I hope you enjoyed this revived interview! Feel free to comment below.
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