Warning: spoilers are throughout this piece.
Fitness guru Richard Simmons hasn’t been seen in public since February 25, 2014, and some people who call themselves his friends are floating wild theories about the cause. Some say his housekeeper is holding him hostage in his Hollywood mansion. Others speculate he’s gained a lot of weight and doesn’t want to be seen in public, or is transitioning into a woman.
There are a dozen theories out there surrounding his disappearance, and filmmaker Dan Taberski is determined to get to the bottom of Simmons’s apparent agoraphobia in the podcast “Missing Richard Simmons.”
The six-part podcast special, which concluded earlier this week, developed a cultish following similar to that of other investigative audio journeys like Sarah Koenig’s “Serial,” but “Missing Richard Simmons” is different. It’s different because Taberski is a friend of Simmons and that relationship seems to drive him to cross boundaries he arguably should not.
Spoiler: Taberski never really “finds” Richard Simmons. In the final episode, which was released a few days earlier than expected, he concludes the series by saying the workout icon probably isn’t dead because he posted a two-second video on his Facebook account from the beach.
Taberski explained the video embedded above is more authentic than others recently posted to Simmons’ fan page because it’s two seconds long, it’s poor quality, and there’s a lot of punctuation. Other videos posted in the time since Simmons’s absence are older videos an employee of his likely posted, typo-free.
That’s not the only evidence offered up in the podcast proving that Richard is okay. Taberski also explains that a cop who listened to a few episodes became concerned for the celebrity’s wellbeing and made a 90-minute house call. He chatted with Simmons, whom he says seems healthy, both physically and mentally. His housekeeper, Teresa, does not seem to be holding Simmons hostage.
All throughout the podcast and up to the last minute of the final episode, Taberski can’t seem to let Simmons go. When all the evidence points to Simmons being alive and well, Taberski is relentless in his conviction that something is indeed wrong with the man he calls his friend, and that’s the reason he hasn’t heard from him.
The most telling example of this comes from the final episode. During a phone conversation between Taberski and Simmons’s longtime manager Michael Catalano, Catalano finally relents and grants Taberski an interview.
“I kinda feel better that he is okay,” Taberski says of the police’s checkup on his former friend.
“I can’t say that Richard feels better as a result of the podcast,” Catalano says in response. “Perhaps you do. I think you’ve really created more worry and speculation.”
Catalano’s words seemed to sting Taberski, who let them sink in for a couple of seconds before responding with: “I would say he left in a concerning way and that people were worried about him and that a lot of those friendships that may have meant something for him, you know, they just ended. Can you understand their point of view, or do you think their worry and concern is misplaced?” he adds.
“I think Richard has this unique quality of spending 10 minutes with somebody, and they feel like they are his best friend, and it’s just a gift that he has,” Catalono explains. “It’s making people feel comfortable and making people really feel like they are part of his inner circle, and that’s not necessarily true.”
In every episode, Taberski speaks with a wounded friends like himself, who miss their pal in short shorts and are hurt they haven’t heard from him in three years. When Taberski interviews someone with knowledge of Simmons’s current state, like his brother and his manager, he barrages them with questions about what Simmons’s responsibility is to fat people he befriended and encouraged to get in shape.
They usually say he doesn’t have any sort of legal or professional obligation to them. They should be content with the time they were able to share with Simmons and wish him well in his more reclusive lifestyle. But Taberski isn’t satisfied with that answer. He is never satisfied, and that’s the point. Taberski, and plenty of Simmons’s other self-described friends, will never be satisfied with the answer, because it likely is that he doesn’t want to see them anymore. Richard Simmons never turns up, because he doesn’t want to be found.