Richard Simmons, circa 1980.
Michael Ochs Archives / Getty Images
1. Richard was born (and subsequently baptized as) Milton Teagle Simmons.
2. He lived with that name for about 11 years, when he sat his parents down to tell them that he couldn’t live with the name. He thought the name was “too serious.”
3. When he started to go by Richard, his parents would call him “Dicky,” which he didn’t like, either.
Simmons as his “Weight Saint” character.
4. He was raised in the French Quarter of New Orleans by his mother, a fan dancer, and father, a singer and dancer. Richard described it as “a loving, musical place” that “wasn’t perfect.”
5. He was raised Catholic and didn’t find out didn’t find out his parents were Jewish until he was 19 years old.
6. He was in seminary school for a year and nine months but left because he felt his “pulpit could be bigger.”
7. Richard studied in Florence, Italy and spent time in Palermo, Sicily, as a fashion illustrator.
8. He stopped working that job because he felt “there was something missing,” saying, “I was alone in the room with a dress, and it wasn’t for me — I needed to be around people!”
9. While in Italy, Richard wound up with small parts in Fellini’s Satyricon and The Clowns.
Simmons while filming General Hospital in August 1980.
Michael Ochs Archives / Getty Images
10. At his heaviest, Richard Simmons weighed 268 pounds. While in Italy, an anonymous person left a note on Richard’s car that read, “Fat people die. Please don’t die, Richard.”
11. This prompted Richard to move to California, where he became anorexic, losing 137 pounds far too quickly and landing in the hospital. Said Richard of this time in his life: “My hair fell out and I almost died.”
12. Richard has been dealing with eating disorders since he was a child. He told Wendy Williams in 2011, “I have eating disorders, I can’t lie about that. I’ve always talked about that. I took diet pills, I threw up, I starved, I thought that people would like me better if I were thin — since I was a kid.”
Michael Ochs Archives
13. Richard spoke about his childhood obesity with Katie Couric in 2013. He said, “There was five stores from my house to the Catholic school and I stopped in all five of them. And I ate, and I didn’t want anyone to know that I ate, so I would take the wrappers and hide them in Kotex boxes. You think it’s funny, but you don’t want your parents to know.”
14. Richard told Regis and Kathie Lee in 1995 that he visited Rome every 10 years.
15. Simmons’ first job in Los Angeles was that of a maître d’ at a restaurant called Derrick’s, where he said he made fettuccine Alfredo and Caesar salads.
16. He also made a lot of celebrity friends working there, like Phyllis Diller, of whom he said “She and I hit it off instantly. I guess she could tell that I was just as silly and laughed just as hard as she did.”
17. LA is also where he found the gym for the first time. His first workout was with an ex-policeman who promised him a “new body.” It didn’t work out that way: “I was in bed for four days, because I overdid it. So I decided then, I need to open a gym for people like me. A place for the overweight and out of shape. And I’m just going to act silly and dance and get them sweating. I saved my tip money from waiting tables, and it took me a year and two months to save $25,000.”
18. He then opened his iconic workout studio Slimmons — which was named the Anatomy Asylum to start.
Alan Levenson / Getty Images
19. It was open for 42 years before closing in late 2016.
20. In the ’90s Richard claimed to receive “25,000 to 30,000 letters a day.”
21. Richard responded to many of these letters, even traveling across the country to meet the writers and help start their weight loss journey. Of this, Richard said, “The reason I travel a lot is to meet these people, who are part of my family. I don’t think of myself as a celebrity. I basically relate to people like myself, who don’t use more than three syllables.”
22. Richard Simmons said in a 1998 interview that he called up to “40 or 50” people per day, and that he kissed and hugged “more people than the pope.”
24. Simmons said his nonjudgmental approach to weight loss appeals to fans: that he’d “They know I’m a compulsive eater and I would arm-wrestle Mother Teresa for an ice cream bar. “
25. Richard is said to have sold over 20 million dollars of his extremely popular Sweatin’ To the Oldies workout tapes in the ’80s.
Simmons during his Cruise to Lose.
Evan Hurd Photography / Getty Images
26. Richard owns over 400 pairs of his trademark Dolfin shorts — which are no longer being made, but people know to send them to him when they find them: “People write to me all the time and say, “Dear Richard, I was cleaning out my garage and you’re just never going to guess what I found. I’ve got two pair[s] of Dolfin shorts!” And they send them to me.”
27. Back in the ’80s, Simmons rounded up the parents of famous people — Al Pacino’s father, Farrah Fawcett’s mother, Sylvester Stallone’s mother, Dustin Hoffman’s father, and his own mother — and recorded the first-ever exercise program for people aged 55 and older called Richard and the Silver Foxes.
28. Richard used to tour through as many as 100 malls per year.
Simmons with Dalmatian puppies in 1985.
Donaldson Collection / Getty Images
29. Richard has played himself on TV many times, including stints on Arrested Development, The Larry Sanders Show, Johnny Bravo, All My Children, Saturday Night Live, Dinosaurs, and CHiPs.
30. He voiced an “aerobics instructor” on Rocko’s Modern Life.
31. He was always fairly private and reserved about his social life. In 1981 he said, “I don’t go to discos, bars or parties. What’s more important, a one-to-one kid-and-family situation or helping 60 million people get their act together?”
32. Richard was a lover of Dalmatians and had many of them over the years. He named all of his Dalmatians after characters from Gone With the Wind.
33. Before his last dalmatian Hattie died in 2013, he would call home to sing a song to his dogs each night when he was traveling.
34. Many of Richard’s many best-selling books are ghost-written because — as he says — “mine is not always the best English.”
35. At one point, Richard sold a line of dolls on HSN with names like “Lillian, Belle of the Ball” and “Smooch the Elf.”
36. And they’re not just for sale — Richard is a collector and says he has over 400 dolls in his house.
37. Richard once stopped at Tiffany’s and bought a diamond ring for Barbara Streisand, despite having never met her. He told David Letterman it was because “she’s inspired me for 30 years.” Barbara returned the ring.
38. In 2008, Richard testified before the Committee on Education and Labor at a hearing concerning childhood obesity and physical health and education.
Simmons on the Late Show With David Letterman in 2000.
CBS Photo Archive / Getty Images
39. Richard was known for being an entertaining and over-the-top talk show guest, but in November 2000 it went too far when David Letterman hosed him down with a fire extinguisher and gave Simmons an asthma attack. He described the incident in 2002 like so: “Last time I was on and [Letterman] sprayed me with that stuff out of the fire extinguisher, I had an asthma attack, and they had to call the paramedic. I have severe asthma, and I panicked.”
Simmons posing in his dalmatian room.
Alan Levenson / Getty Images
40. He didn’t go back on The Late Show for a full six years.
41. Richard even had his own talk show in the ’80s — The Richard Simmons show aired from 1980 to 1984.
42. In 2012, he opened up in Men’s Health about the emotional toll working with so many people can take: “After I talk to so many people who are so unhappy about their weight and so depressed that they don’t see any rainbows in their life, after I talk to about 30 of those, then I try to walk away and pet my dog, just do something that makes me happy. But I’ll tell you, it’s hard. I take it all very personally. I’m just that kind of guy.”
43. While there are many theories (and a podcast) about why Richard has removed himself from the public eye for the past three years, there’s a quote Richard gave to People in 1981 that may shed light on the emotional toll Richard’s work has taken on him: “I work real hard to make people laugh and to make them think. The day I don’t love any of this, I’ll walk away.”