Richard Simmons: "I'm the Court Jester of Fitness"

Read what the fitness icon had to say about bingeing, short shorts and spray tans.

I had a feeling this was going to be a really fun interview when, after answering the incoming phone call from Richard Simmons, the first thing he said was, “Please, Leslie, let me be part of your village.”

Then, when he randomly shouted, “C’mon, lets’ sing a song together, Leslie!” and proceeded to serenade me with “Nothing on you” by B.O.B:  “Beautiful girls, all over the world/ I could be chasing but my time would be wasted/ they got nothing on you, Leslie/nothing on you, Leslie…” I knew it was going to be a good time.

At almost 62-years-old, Richard Simmons still has the high-octane energy level of a toddler on Red Bull. Many of us grew up watching him on TV, pleading with Americans to come sweat to the oldies with him. After years of disordered eating and suffering with obesity, he’s lost 123 pounds and kept it off 41 years. In the process, he’s become a cultural icon. Always clad in a sparkly, crystal-encrusted tank top and sassy short shorts, he has established himself as one of the nation's most revered fitness experts, helping millions of overweight men and women lose close to 3,000,000 pounds. In addition to producing 50 fitness videos, like Dance Your Pants Off and Disco Sweat, he’s written nine books, including the New York Times Best Seller entitled…wait for it…Never Say Diet!

I got a chance to ask everyone’s favorite curly-haired firecracker a few questions before he jets off for Atlanta on May 1, where he’ll be joining Jane Fonda (or, as he calls her, Lady Jane), Tae-Bo pro Billy Blanks, Denise Austin, and Dr. Sanjay Gupta to launch World Fitness Day, Fonda’s brainchild event designed to bring greater attention to the importance of self-empowerment, health and wellness throughout the life span.

What's your secret for all of your trademark energy?

All the crystals on my tank top! No – it’s the people. Each of my classes are like a Broadway show – the curtain goes up, and we get people stretching, doing cardio and strength training, and I always end with motivation. It’s my signature. I just love my life and love what I get to do every day and thank God for giving me this whimsical gift so I can give people hope. I may be teaching exercise but what I’m really giving is hope.  [Launches into a rendition of “We’ve Got High Hopes.”]

Do you watch any of the current workout shows, like Biggest Loser or Dance Your Ass Off?

I’m not a believer in weight loss competitions. I don’t believe you should lose weight and get a prize; the prize is health and longevity. When I was a kid, my mom offered me a dollar for every pound I lost. I was 7 or 8 years old, and it didn’t do anything. People have to want weight loss and health in their heart and soul, and not get money or a car because they did it.

But, you know, I just came from the Today Show, and do you know who I saw? Jillian Michaels! I picked her up in my arms like she was Scarlett O’Hara and I was Rhett Butler.

What are some tips for parents trying to help their overweight kids get healthy?

It all starts with being a good example. I get about 50 calls or emails a day through my website, and many of them are the parents of overweight children or are overweight themselves. You need t be a good role model, and you need to have realistic goals for your children. Take the kids for a walk, take them to the gym, but you have to be there doing it with them. And get kids into the kitchen, where they can see what real food is. All of those things will build up to kids having more self esteem, and that is the key. 

What’s your favorite healthy food and favorite indulgence?

I’ve lost my weight many times, because I had eating disorders. I used to through up and starve and take laxatives and diet pills. It didn’t work. [When I started losing weight in a healthy way], I ate a lot of salads. When I opened my exercise studio 38 years ago, I actually had the first salad bar in Beverly Hills, called Roughage. I still eat a ton of salads. Plus, I weigh myself all the time. If I see a two pound weight gain, I start singing the theme song to Valley of the Dolls. I have to squeeze this 62-year-old, 148-pound body into dolphin shorts from the 80s that they don’t make any more.

Any favorite songs to work out to?

I began collecting 45 records as a child. I like music that makes people happy, that makes people feel alive. Music is therapy. I was a jukebox in my past life. On World Fitness Day, we’ll be working out to Lady Gaga. I want to adopt her.

Let’s do a little word association. I’ll say a word and you tell me the first thing that pops into your mind. Ready?

Me: The 80s

RS: Tank tops


Me:  Disco  

RS:  I have a disco ball in my exercise studio!


Me: Spray tans 

RS:  Orange skin.  I tried it once and looked like a papaya with an afro.


Me: Anorexia

RS:  I’ve been there.


Me: Jane Fonda 

RS:  Feisty


Me: Britney Spears 

RS:  My relative from Louisiana.


Me: Cheeseburger

RS:  I don’t eat meat.


Me: Curly

RS:  God’s chosen people.


Me: Fitness 

RS: Passion – it will be my passion until God takes me to that little aerobics studio in the sky.

Simmons’ Fit Kids Bill, calling for more physical education in schools, just passed in the House of Representatives this week. Congratulations, Richard! Learn more about the bill here.




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