LOS ANGELES — I wasn’t sure what to expect while sitting in the “Slimmons” workout studio recently in Beverly Hills, waiting for Richard Simmons to walk in. There were rumors Simmons was planning on wearing special attire for Latin day, but reality set in when the star entered the room, dressed in a tank top decorated with multi-colored ruffles and Swarovski crystals and set his gaze on me.
“Close your mouth, son,” Simmons said to me as I gaped at his attire.
“He thinks he’s staring at a Mexican kitchen,” he said to the rest of the group, eliciting the first of many laughs.
The 63-year-old health guru opened his exercise studio 39 years ago after losing 123 pounds. Simmons tries to help people through weekly workout programs and motivational sessions. His class participants included many college-age students from around the United States. While his class attendance exceeded 100 people, he made a point to reach out to everyone in the studio. This has been a pattern from the beginning of his career, demonstrated by continued correspondence with one overweight man for more than 18 years in attempts to try to help motivate him to take care of himself.
“Everyone that walks in this door, I act as if they are a relative or a friend,” Simmons said. “And that brings everyone together.”
Simmons wanted to make things spicy for Latin day, and BYU student Jenessa Baird, a public health major, got the first bit of zest from Simmons during his motivational meeting prior to the workout.
“Someone needs a little kiss!” Simmons yelled as he ran to Baird and kissed her on the cheek.
While in most cases such an action might be undesirable, Simmons has a way of putting people at ease. Baird had no issues with the kiss at all.
“Let’s just say it was well-received,” Baird said.
I knew Simmons was a performer, but I didn’t anticipate how funny he would be. I was fortunate to be one of about 20 people in Simmons’ motivational meeting prior to exercising. The meeting seamlessly transitioned to a sort of “comedy hour with Richard Simmons” as he kept the group laughing throughout the intimate meeting.
During the goal-setting portion of the meeting, Simmons’ was quick to critique the goals of people in attendance if he thought a goal was poor. One woman had a goal to reconnect with old friends.
“That’s a terrible goal!” Simmons joked. “There’s a reason why you made new friends. Stick with them.”
While much of the meeting was lighthearted, Simmons shifted to a serious tone frequently toward the end of the meeting.
“How do you feel about your weight?” was a question Simmons asked many women in the room. After hearing a response, he would offer advice and encouragement to help them on their way.
The vibe of the room changed instantly as he turned on the music and a flood of nearly 100 people entered the room in response to the music, and immediately began dancing to kick off the workout session.
The exercise program employed an extended amount of “dancercise,” as Simmons incorporated various Latin dance moves with standard aerobic exercises. While Simmons was serious during most of his workout, even getting in the faces of several lazy participants, he didn’t hesitate to stop the music and address individuals if he got the urge.
“You two, are you together?” Simmons asked a couple. “I can always tell how long these things will last.”
Simmons gave a bit of spice early on, but things really heated up when he requested that I come into the middle of the studio in front of the crowd. He quickly approached me, removed my shirt and threw it to the side as he used me as an assistant to demonstrate the next set of exercises.
Normally I would have been embarrassed by the cat calls and attention, but it didn’t seem out of the realm of the ordinary in the Slimmons studio.
Hannah Balenda, a pre-med student from University of Washington, showed up wearing a pair of “special ordered” gold spandex in honor of Simmons’ trademark Dolfin shorts.
“It was a lot more fun than I thought it would be, he really keeps the energy high,” Balenda said. “Everyone was totally into it.”
In a post-workout interview, a different side of Simmons came out as he spoke with seriousness about his passion for helping people and the love he feels for every person who walks into his studio. Simmons answers hundreds of emails and wants everyone to know they can see him for support.
“It’s an unconditional love place,” Simmons said.
Even at 63, the motivator can move well. Simmons led all the exercises and joked about how, despite his age, he could still move better than I can at 24. Simmons said he promotes a simple plan he believes can help anyone lose weight and stay healthy afterward.
“The formula is: love yourself, move your body and watch your portions.”