Have you heard the new podcast “Missing Richard Simmons”? It’s the most popular podcast in the U.S. and my family and I are hooked. It tells the story of how the legendary fitness guru mysteriously dropped out of sight three years ago and investigates what might have happened to him.
The podcast also tells the story of Simmons’ life—and when you hear it, you can’t help but admire him. For over 40 years, Simmons was single-handedly responsible for bringing fitness to a forgotten swath of the U.S. population, the obesely overweight. Via lively, often silly videos and personal appearances, he instructed and motivated all he encountered on how diet and exercise can help you lose weight, improving your health and your life.
Simmons ministered to a part of society that was poor in spirit and did all he could to lift them up. He went out of his way to be accessible, developing hundreds of personal relationships with those he met in public and private life, jotting down phone numbers of those who sought his guidance, calling them on a regular basis to make sure they were okay and fighting the good fight. It comes as no surprise that…
Richard Simmons almost became a priest.
Simmons grew up poor in an eccentric but strictly Catholic family in New Orleans. He attended church faithfully and for a time contemplated joining the priesthood. When you hear his motivational speeches, you can almost sense how he might have succeeded as a preacher. It’s also no surprise that he often prays with those he helps, asking God for support.
I recently stumbled upon a short article Simmons wrote back in 2011, for a now defunct website called lifebeme.com. It’s titled “Resiliency” and I think it gives great insight into the man and his life work. Here’s an excerpt, Richard Simmons in his own words:
What makes me most happy is helping people. My parents were very active in charities, so at an early age I was helping dish out food to the homeless and do fundraisers. My parents instilled in me the ideas that every day you’ve got to take care of yourself and every day you’ve got to be kind to others. You’ll always feel like you’re riding on a rainbow if you help people.
There are a lot of house-bound people too heavy or too sick to get around. All day, I talk to people who weigh 300 pounds, 500 pounds, 800 pounds. They never were able to complete the pieces of their health puzzle. For 10, 20, 30 years, I’ve been calling these people, singing to them, trying to give them hope, make them laugh, and hopefully make their day.
Simmons also talked about his relationship with God. When I read the passage below, I see that his way of thinking is not far different from Mother Teresa who told us that “If you love people, you have no time to judge them.” Simmons did not judge, believing we all had the right to dignity and happiness. He saw people in need and did all he could to help them, giving totally of himself. Again, in his words:
Every day, I ask God, “What more can I say to people? What better example can I be?” I don’t give up on people. I say, “You may have given up on you, but I haven’t.” Sometimes I’m the last person who talks to them before they die. I’m doing what I do because I don’t like people dying all alone, in pain, not feeling good about themselves, having no hope and no plan.
God doesn’t want you to be down on this Earth depressed. He wants you to be resilient, to be able to get up and do what you have to do, what you want to do, and enjoy your life.
In a society that places a premium on health and fitness and looking good, Simmons cared for the forgotten and scorned while others looked away. His mission was different from Mother Teresa, but so is the culture in which he lives. Sure, Simmons made a ton of money, but we live in a capitalistic society. One must serve where one is called.
Richard Simmons obvious love of people and life makes his disappearance all the more puzzling. After 40 years of service, why does someone with so much to give stop giving? Like Mother Teresa, did he have a crisis of faith? If yes, is his personal dark night of the soul permanent or something he will be able to shed, stepping out of a long period of darkness and back into the light?
I believe we are put on this Earth to do what we can, to the best of our ability, while we are still living. When our time is up and our work is done, we are called back home. I want to believe, like so many others, that Richard Simmons’ time is not up.
I recently published the book “Thaddeus Squirrel, A Spiritual Fable”. It’s available at Amazon.