What We Learned About ‘What Really Happened to Richard Simmons’ on Fox

TMZ Investigates: What Really Happened to Richard Simmons\

Fitness legend Richard Simmons hasn’t been seen in public since February 2014. His notable absence has become the subject of the Missing Richard Simmons podcast, and now the TMZ documentary What Really Happened to Richard Simmons, which premiered August 22 on Fox. Fellow fitness star Suzanne Somers, writer Bruce Vilanch, Dr. Phil, and more were interviewed for the 45-minute documentary, which claims to have found the truth about Simmons’ whereabouts.

The majority of the documentary analyzes Simmons’ past interviews, combing through footage from the peak of his fame — conventions, TV appearances, fan interactions in public, the works. Much of what the documentary broke down was information Simmons publicly shared. The doc uses these clips to establish the distinguishable difference between his public persona and private life. Simmons’ interviews detailed the bullying he suffered in his childhood, his relationship with food (including disordered eating that led to him losing 137 pounds, but he nearly died in the process), and the emotional responsibility he felt to his supporters.

The pressure of being an uplifting figure for so many people in public made him become a recluse in private. His public life was incredibly draining, given his brand of positivity and high energy. And having struggled with feelings about his body image his whole life, his insecurities — paired with his position as a public figure motivating people to lose weight — made him feel personally responsible for his fans’ feelings. When they didn’t “succeed” (by their own and Simmons’ definitions), he felt like a failure.

Keeping an extremely private home life seems to have been his coping technique, but it did lead to some loneliness, and Somers believes his insecurities intensified over the years.

“If you put yourself out there as something perfect, you’ll never succeed for a continued time, because you’ll keep revealing what’s not operating at optimum on you or in you,” she said. “I think it was in his head; I think it was emotional, that he wasn’t enough.”

Somers also shared the last interaction she had with her friend in the doc.

“One night I was on the Larry King Show and he was either going to be a guest or supposed to be a guest, and I heard through the Larry King people that he didn’t want to be on the show with me,” Somers detailed. “I said, ‘Why?’ and he said, ‘She’ll make fun of me.’ And that’s not my style, I never make fun of anybody. But that’s when I realized a little insecurity has gotten in there. I liked him. I was always so surprised when he thought I’d make fun of him. But doesn’t that show you he’s got a heartache? Something’s broken inside because he did it. He had it and then let it go.”

Ultimately, the documentary lands at the conclusion that Simmons left the public eye because of a double knee replacement that affected his ability to exercise and his desire to retire. After a lifetime in the spotlight, it’s natural that ghosting the public would cause confusion and raise questions. But Dr. Phil said Simmons’ sudden disappearance aligns with his personality, saying that people with “extreme personalities” like his tend to make “extreme changes.”

A TMZ executive producer also revealed that he spoke with an LAPD officer who has been in contact with Simmons in recent years. That officer, who remained anonymous, said that Simmons “didn’t want to be remembered as this frail guy. He wanted to be remembered as a guy that millions of people loved and watched. And that’s why he disappeared.” Vilanch said Simmons was like Greta Garbo in that way, who retired at 45 and lived 50 more years after that.

“The Richard who has vanished is more authentically himself than the loud, sometimes crazy persona that he created,” it’s said near the end of the doc. “Richard himself has said over the years that at his core, he’s a loner, quiet person who’s more at peace alone.”

TMZ Investigates: What Really Happened to Richard Simmons, Streaming Now, Fox