The show follows a simple premise: a filmmaker, who says he knows the ’80s fitness video star Richard Simmons, is trying to figure out why Simmons has disappeared from the public eye and retreated deep into his private life.
Spoiler alert, Simmons isn’t actually missing in the “call 911 and put up posters with his picture” sense. It’s more that his presence is missing from charity events, TV appearances, workout sessions, social events, videos, social media, the internet — everywhere.
As the show details, he’s alive but it’s not clear if he’s well. Dan Taberski, the filmmaker-turned-podcast narrator, picks up where Simmons’ public life left off. The mystery begins with the last public sighting of Simmons in 2014, when he failed to show up to teach a class at his beloved Los Angeles fitness studio, Slimmons (which has since shuttered).
It then continues, checking in with Simmons inner circle (Taberski tracks down his masseuse, housekeeper and publicist), longtime friends and people he’s mentored and coached. The show visits Simmons childhood home in New Orleans, talks to his older brother and basically finds anyone with any connection to Simmons. In the final episode don’t be surprised if they look through Simmons trash.
A deep investigation into Simmons’ disappearance, similar to the podcast, came out last year from the New York Daily News and uncovered similar themes, theories and research findings. Now a year later, Taberski is still determined to uncover what’s going on with the workout fiend and actor, whom he says is his friend, at any cost.
The podcast has stayed at No. 1 in the U.S., Canada, Australia and the UK for the past few weeks. This week it dropped, but just a bit, to No. 2 (due to, naturally, a Serial spinoff series that just dropped). Next week will be its sixth and final episode.
So, why is everyone obsessed with this show? We found some reasons.
It’s like Serial
Like the podcast hit Serial’s first season, which examined a 1999 cold case murder of a high school senior, Missing Richard Simmons follows a tight narrative structure and unpacks the mystery week-by-week. You’ll quickly get addicted to following the narrative along in an attempt to figure this out once and for all. What’s really going on with Simmons? Did Adnan kill Hae Min?
Each episode we get a little closer to solving the mystery — or do we? Is this solvable? What’s the deal with Jay? What’s a Best Buy?
Conspiracy theories galore
As the Washington Post listed out earlier this month there are so many possible reasons for Simmons withdrawal into his own private world.
Some theories floating around out there include he’s being held hostage by his longtime housekeeper; he’s seriously depressed and unhinged after his dog died; he’s physically deteriorated and too ashamed to show his face and aging body; he’s transitioning into a woman; he’s been taken over by witchcraft and black magic; or he’s really just done with everything and wants to be left alone.
It feeds into our nosiness aka it’s none of our business
Amanda Hess argues so well in this New York Times piece that we need to butt out of Simmons’ life. Who are we to pry our way into someone’s decision to step out of the spotlight? Others have argued that the show is exploitative and Taberski is using his tenuous connection as a “friend” of Simmons to create a hit show.
Simmons has refused to be part of the podcast, which is a pretty good indicator to back off. Serial had the stamp of approval from Adnan himself to release Adnan’s personal thoughts and musings while he talked to podcast host Sarah Koenig from jail.
This is nothing like that.
Celebrity gossip, duh
The show attempts to unearth the ultimate celebrity dirt by delving into what happens behind closed doors — even doors that have been slammed shut in our face. At this point, Simmons is more of a character than a person to many of his fans and the show treats him like something to play with.
Take for example when Taberski says one minute that he’s not going to go into Simmons’ sexuality, while the next he drops information about Simmons relationship with his masseuse/assistant that can only be read one way.
So while trying to figure out why he’s avoiding the spotlight, superfans, friends, mentees and people who may tangentially know him get to throw out theories and absurd ideas and see what sticks. Mix in his fame and big-name status and everyone wants to get in on the speculation game. It’s a supermarket tabloid story in audio form with better production skills.
It’s a mystery
Ultimately we don’t really know what’s going on with Simmons and probably never will — no matter how many times he calls into the Today show assuring everyone he is fine, like he did last year following the NY Daily News story.
Just like we don’t know whether Adnan Sayed is guilty or innocent or if Steven Avery from the Netflix docu-series Making a Murderer killed Teresa Halbach, Simmons case is likely to remain unsolved. One thing we do know: the unknown is so alluring.
We can’t stop, won’t stop searching. And that’s how a hit podcast is born.