Chief Opinions Editor
I’ve been giving a lot of thought about what I wanted to write about in the first issue of the year. I felt that whatever I wrote about, it needed to be important. This is an issue that was presented to me last Spring, when filmmaker Dan Taberski released a series of podcasts searching for Richard. On February 15, 2014, fitness guru Richard Simmons disappeared. His retreat into the private was not gradual. One day he just stopped showing up to the fitness classes he taught. He stopped talking to life-long friends without any heads up or reason why. Richard was always notoriously accessible. The podcast featured stories from individuals that had been personally touched by Richard throughout their lives. They talked to people who Richard mentored to lose weight and get in shape. Richard had always made himself available to them. They loved him. And he loved them back. But then he suddenly disappeared without telling anyone.
The podcast dove into the stories of these individuals to try to figure out why Richard had gone into hiding and why exactly he decided to retreat from his incredibly public life. It was truly heartbreaking to listen to. Richard had touched so many lives and had left dozens of people confused and distressed.
Hearing these individual’s stories and how upset they were about Richard’s decision to recede back into private life and disappear presented me with a moral quandary. What exactly do celebrities owe us? What do we owe our friends? Do we have the complete prerogative to change our life’s trajectory on a moment’s notice?
I think this story is tragic and I feel for those that loved Richard and relied on him for support and guidance. But at the end of the day, I know that I could not live like Richard Simmons did. He was constantly surrounded by people. He was constantly entertaining and putting on a façade. It seems more and more that this public life got to Richard and that he was suppressing his true feelings of depression. I understand that people liked Richard and probably relied on him for their own happiness. But is that justification to express frustration and anger at him for his own life choices? I get it that his fans loved him. And I also understand why they’re searching for closure now in his absence. But Richard came out and said that he is healthy and is not under duress, a concern many loved ones had for him. So if Richard is safe and, by all accounts, happy in his reclusiveness, then why are we so determined to find him and “save” him? I don’t believe that celebrities owe us any responsibility for their own fame. Richard Simmons made a lot of people really happy. Is it not his prerogative to retire if he chooses to?
There is no shortage of theories about why he’s gone into hiding. Some say he’s gained weight and is ashamed to be seen, some theorize he’s transitioning sexes, some say he’s being held hostage by his housekeeper. All of these theories were explored on the podcast and all of them came up short of explaining the disappearance. The podcast’s “climax” came when Taberski finally came to the painful realization that Simmons is actually fine. He is not missing. He does not want to be found.
The podcast quickly became dark when I realized that, by listening, I was involved in this complete invasion of Richard Simmons’ privacy. Merely because he is a celebrity we assumed that something must be terribly wrong with him if he didn’t want to talk to us. We demand our celebrities interact with us and care about us as much as we care about them. Richard Simmons seemingly loved being a celebrity, until he decided he didn’t anymore. And that should be alright with us. I’m disappointed that Richard doesn’t want to talk to us, I miss his bubbling personality. But if he’s happy now, I can’t complain.