Richard Simmons Podcast Is Over, but Not the Controversy

Did it breach the privacy of a man done with the spotlight?
By John Johnson,  Newser Staff
Posted Mar 22, 2017 1:23 PM CDT
Richard Simmons Podcast Is Over, but Mystery Remains
Richard Simmons in 2006.   (AP Photo/Tina Fineberg, File)

The popular and controversial "Missing Richard Simmons" podcast is now complete, though the central question of why the fitness celeb abruptly ditched public life in 2014 remains unanswered. Was the podcast an invasion of privacy or fair game? Here's a look at coverage related to that question and about Simmons himself:

  • The basics: Former Daily Show producer Dan Taberski, a student in Simmons' exercise class, created the six-episode podcast to explore why Simmons stopped showing up for classes, or anywhere really, without explanation in 2014. It quickly shot to No. 1 on iTunes. See story.
  • The critics: One of the most widely circulated criticisms of the show came from Amanda Hess at the New York Times, who called it "morally suspect." Plenty of others had the same theme, including Jessica Brown at the Week, who complained that "no one is talking about how insensitive this podcast is, and how it disregards the privacy a man who wishes, for whatever reason, to be left alone."

  • Backlash to criticism: At the Daily Beast, Ben Collins thinks the critics should lighten up. Simmons is an "extremely public figure" who vanished under seemingly odd circumstances. "Ah, yes. That old journalistic mantra: You should probably just leave that shady situation—the one that goes unsolved even after months of interstate investigation—entirely alone."
  • Ditto: Glenn Dixon at the Washington Post argues that the podcast is a legit way for fans to mourn the absence of their hero. Given his stature, "it's unacceptable for Simmons to walk away without ceremony."
  • Expect more: Sarah Larson at New York also thinks Simmons' status as a public figure saves the show, "if just," but she also thinks the show raises ethical questions about podcasts that explore "real-life mysteries." In fact, the "Serial" spinoff "S-Town," which will put the spotlight on a small Alabama town, debuts next week. "We’ll be having these conversations in the weeks, months, and years to come." Read it in full here.
  • Simmons' reaction: A longtime rep says Simmons is aware of the swirling rumors—he's transitioning to a female! he's being held hostage by his housekeeper!—and is unfazed. “I said to him the other day, ‘There are people that think you are a very overweight, depressed woman.’ And he laughed. He just laughed,” Michael Catalano tells People. "For now," he adds, Simmons "is enjoying the time away from the public."
  • 'Humiliating': In a separate interview with the AP, Catalano complains that Simmons "didn't need this intrusion to validate his contribution to people. He knows the reception (the podcast) is having. He knows how people are responding to it. But it's also hurtful. It's humiliating, you know?" Taberski declined to be interviewed.
(More Richard Simmons stories.)

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