I first encountered Richard Simmons when I traveled out to Los Angeles in the summers of 1982 and 1983. I always struggled with my weight and when I found out that I could attend the Richard Simmons Show tapings at KTLA in Los Angeles, I jumped at the chance! I don’t remember that much about the episodes other than one taping had the then current Miss America, Debbie Maffett, as guest host. I remember how motivating Richard was both on and off camera.
Not long after I returned from California, I was cast as Simon Bliss in the Noel Coward play, Hay Fever.
In the cast was an actress named Carol Van Lingen, who was close to my age and we became friends during the run of the play. Carol told me about auditions that were coming up for aerobic instructors for the Richard Simmon’s Anatomy Asylum in Natick, Massachusetts. She told me that she wanted to audition, but wanted some moral support and asked me to come along.
Now my idea of exercise was a large pizza and a Diet Coke, but remembering the fun that I had working out with Richard Simmons on his television show, and being a big fan, I decided to tag along to the audition. The audition required us to perform a routine and speak a little motivational speech. To both our surprise, Carol and I were accepted as new employees of the Richard Simmon’s Anatomy Asylum! We still had to go through a rigorous training program though first. When the first day of training finally arrived, Carol Van Lingen was nowhere in sight! Carol decided she didn’t want to become an aerobics instructor after all, while I decided that I really wanted to!
The training was rigorous, and I was very out of shape, but I really took to it. It was like performing and helping people at the same time! One of the nice things about Richard Simmon’s Anatomy Asylums was that they hired some instructors that were overweight. These overweight instructors were hired to teach the overweight classes, or OWA classes as they were known.
This was a great concept for those that didn’t feel comfortable in the gym, and they could lose weight along with their instructor… a great idea! I really took to teaching aerobics, having struggled my whole life with my weight. It was great to be able to build a safe environment for myself and my students. I loved all my coworkers and we had a great time together. I even got to play Richard on one occasion at our club’s Halloween party.
Richard would come out to teach at our club once in awhile, or to open another club in Massachusetts, and we would all have a great time. Some of our club members and I appeared once with him on a local television program, The Good Day Show. Fun times!
My ultimate goal at this time however, was to become a professional actor. I had been performing in local theatre in the evenings, and at the age of 21, decided to move to Los Angeles. I was accepted into the American Academy of Dramatic Art, a prestigious and rigorous actor training program, then located in Pasadena, California. Because of my association with Richard Simmons in Massachusetts, I was able to arrange to continue my job with the Asylum at the Glendale Richard Simmon’s Anatomy Asylum. I would also teach in the Woodland Hills Anatomy Asylum, as well as several other locations. At one point, I even won the company’s, Positive Attitude Award, and Richard presented me with the award at a ceremonial dinner. It was a great place to work! At the same time I would occasionally attend Richard’s class at the Beverly Hills Anatomy Asylum. His classes was always well attended and he became friends with many of the participants.
As much as I like to be like light-hearted, I should also mention that this was the first time in my life I have ever experienced sexual harassment on the job. The manager at the Woodland Hills Anatomy Asylum, for whatever reason, took a real liking to me. He would follow me into the men’s restroom while I changed into my workout clothes. From outside the stall he would talk about how we were going to be together, and that if I didn’t sleep with him, he was going to get me fired. I just made light of the whole thing, but he kept going on and on. I have to admit it was really uncomfortable having one your managers keep making passes at you, especially when they were not wanted. At this time in my life, I was struggling with my sexuality and this experience made it all the more difficult. But I digress, let’s get back to Richard Simmons!
At one point during my time at the Anatomy Asylum in California, I heard that Richard was casting for a new exercise video called, Get Started with Richard Simmons. While the auditions were open to the public, it was also mentioned that he would be casting some employees as well. Since I loved performing and I loved teaching, I thought that this would be a great experience. I remember very little about the audition, except that there were maybe over a hundred people at the casting call. Eventually, I think it got down to about 10 of us and we were asked to perform the learned routine just for Richard. To my great excitement, I was cast along with three others to appear with Richard in the video. This was my first big break, or so I thought, and I knew it was going to be a lot of fun!
See a Clip
Now attending the American Academy of Dramatic Art came with certain rules, and one of these rules was that you couldn’t miss a lot of classes. The second rule was that you could not act professionally while attending the program. Though I didn’t consider appearing in an aerobics video as acting, I still thought I should let the school know that I was going to participate in the video. When I told the director of the school that I was going to do the video, he informed me that I would have to drop out of school. I argued that since I worked for Richard Simmons already, that the video could be considered part of my job, and was not the same thing as performing in a play or a movie, I shouldn’t have to drop out of class. The director was adamant… if I wanted to do the video, I would have to leave class.
I was 21, starstruck, wanted to do the video, and so thus ended my association with the American Academy of Dramatic Art!
Rehearsals began at Richard’s studio, Slimmons, in Beverly Hills. The video was conceived to introduce the concept of low impact aerobics. Richard was very excited to implement this new program, as he thought it would help a lot of people who maybe could not do a lot of the high impact exercises that were out there at the time. I don’t remember a lot about the rehearsals other than Richard was more serious and professional than usual, as he really wanted to get this video out there to help people. His mom, Shirley, came to rehearsal one day and I remember she was just this really sweet person. I could see that they had a really close relationship. I remember one day we were practicing the abdominal routine on the floor. We were lying on our backs and reaching between our legs in a sit up position. I’ll never forget Richard said to, “pretend you are reaching for Treat Williams thighs!” As I said, I was not really out of the closet just yet, so I had to volunteer that thought did nothing for me. Little did I know!
Eventually the day of filming was upon us, and we were set to film at a soundstage in Culver City… I believe it was once part of the MGM lot. I was so excited, all of my favorite movies were made at MGM, and here I was heading to Culver City!
The filming was interesting because we did not perform our routine to music, but to what is known as a click track. Basically a metronome sound is played on the set and the music would be added later. Early on during the filming it became obvious that the director was getting frustrated because everyone was not on the same beat. The director took us aside and told us to count out loud along with Richard to keep everyone on the correct beat. Richard did not really seem that happy that we were doing this, but that is what the director wanted so we complied. I remember from the shoot that the lunch was catered by Sikhs and the food delicious! When we finally filmed our last shot, Richard broke down and started crying. He really hoped that this video would help people. He really cared that much!
In contrast, I remember once during rehearsal I was driving home from the exercise studio and Richard pulled up beside me at the traffic light in his convertible Mercedes with his novelty license plate, YRUFAT. I looked over at him and said, “Hi.” He replied, “ I don’t talk to anyone outside the studio.” I felt 2 inches tall.
I had heard that there was going to be a wrap party at Richard’s home to celebrate the completion of the video. I drove to his home in the Hollywood Hills and waited in my car for a bit. I did not see any other cars outside. I only saw one visitor come to the home with a bouquet of flowers and no one else arrived. I was afraid I had the date wrong, so I went home.
I only worked for the Anatomy Asylum a few more months after the video, before taking another job at Disneyland. It wasn’t till several years later in the late 80’s when I was shopping at at a local Los Angeles department store that I ran into him again, and we exchanged greetings.
In 2000, I had gained a lot of weight and was feeling sorry for myself. I wrote Richard and said he probably didn’t remember me, but that I was grateful for all the motivation he had given me and so many others. To my surprise he wrote me back and said that he wanted me “back on track” and was going to send me his “Move, Groove, and Lose” kit. Although I never actually received the kit, but I was so grateful that he took the time to actually write me back and was so kind and encouraging.
In more recent times, it has been reported that Richard hasn’t been seen in public for several years, and has cut off himself from friends and fans. Many theories for this disappearance are presented in the excellent podcast, Missing Richard Simmons. While I know that there has always been a public Richard, and a more serious private one, his total “radio silence’ has made this world a rather foggy and dull place without his bright beacon of light!
Richard Simmons is the most motivating person I ever met! He got me off the couch and started me on a lifelong, on and off again, love affair with exercise. There has never been an aerobic instructor/guru who could make exercise actually fun, the way Richard does! He has helped so many people, and I am honored to have worked for, and alongside… this wonderful man.