Podcast of the Week: MISSING RICHARD SIMMONS
I don’t have a strong personal connection to Richard Simmons, but I do remember the first time I saw him. It was an old rerun of WHOSE LINE IS IT ANYWAY, and I know I was too young to be watching it, because I didn’t understand why Richard’s enthusiasm for being “all the props” was so hysterical. Richard’s loud, bombastic, and (as I realized later) homoerotic personality dominates his place in the public consciousness. His impact on popular culture is summarised by the popularity of the Richard Simmons workout dress costume. So I was surprised as anyone to learn that Richard abruptly retreated from society in 2014, leaving behind hoards of fans and friends asking: “Why?” One of these fans/friends is filmmaker Dan Taberski, who took it upon himself to solve the mystery of Richard’s disappearance in the form of the latest podcast craze: MISSING RICHARD SIMMONS.
Drawing inspiration from SERIAL, the podcast tackles its subject matter with a distinctly true crime flavor. Taberski posits his “theories” about Simmons’s disappearance, giving each one the full investigative journalism run-down with the microphone rolling at all times. Every curt phone call, slamming door, and terse conversation has the listener on the edge of their seat. The willing participants are somehow even more interesting than the unwilling ones, including tearful stories of weight loss from Richard’s disciples at Slimmons, famous drag queen Willam, and Richard’s “personal masseuse,” who self-published a children’s book to convince the public that Richard’s housekeeper is keeping Richard hostage with actual witchcraft.
Yes it is real, and yes the e-book costs 30 bucks
Image Source: Screenshot
If any of this sounds a little creepy and invasive to you, you’re not the only one that thinks so. The podcast drew its fair share of controversy during its short six-episode run, to the point that the first result when you google the title is an Atlantic article calling the show an “ethical minefield.” Nosy podcast people love to get all up in other people’s business, and in most cases the more personal the better. But there’s an important difference between Richard Simmons and SERIAL’s Adnan Syed—Sarah Koening didn’t kick Adnan’s door down to get his story, but Taberski seems eager to give Richard the same treatment. Richard isn’t a convicted criminal, has said in interviews that he just wants to be left alone, the people he’s still in contact with say the same, and multiple wellness checks from the LAPD confirmed that he’s doing just fine. So, why go to all this trouble to invade a retired man’s privacy?
MISSING RICHARD SIMMONS finishes strong with its answer to this question, no doubt prompted by the wave of criticism. (Taberski admits in the final episode that he decided to take it in a different direction and removed a segment that stemmed from—as he says—“being way too deep in a story.”) It presents not only a complex portrait of a beloved fitness icon, but of the podcast creator himself. Taberski’s exploration of his own motives in the final episode elevate the series from a controversial failed experiment to a poignant statement about acceptance.
Avid podcast listeners will undoubtedly already be on this hype train, but if you’ve been looking for an opportunity to get on, now’s your chance. MISSING RICHARD SIMMONS showcases everything great about podcasts: suspense, tears, laughs, mystery, intrigue, controversy, and a moral that stays with you long after its short three hour runtime is up.