Apr 7, 2015

Richard Simmons: Fitness Guru Who Has Never Said the Word "Gay"

The Liberace of the 1980s was Richard Simmons, a fey elf in an Afro who led millions of overweight middle-aged women in energetic dance-style aerobics.

Growing up obese, Richard was dissatisfied with the diet and exercise regiments available: he believed that exercise should be fun and uplifting, and diets should be a joyful celebration, not dreary deprivation.  So he opened his own exercise studio, Slimmons, in Beverly Hills in 1969. He still teaches aerobics classes there every morning.

You can buy many of his Sweating to the Oldies DVDs, and about a dozen books, including Never Say Diet (you should say "live it!").

His program seems to be all about aerobics, or just getting off the couch and moving around.  Not a lot of weight training.

His effervescent personality and success in reaching the middle-aged female crowd led to a story on Real People, followed by guest appearances on game shows and talk shows, a four-year stint playing himself on General Hospital, numerous tv commercials, and his own Richard Simmons Show.

Richard had a few male fans.  He helped the morbidly obese Michael Hebranko drop from 906 to 200 pounds in 19 months, a feat which got Hebranko listed in The Guiness Book of World Records (unfortunately, most of the weight came back; he died in 2013 at 550 pounds).

There are many parallels between Richard Simmons and Liberace:
1. Aggressively feminine mannerisms.
2. A penchant for flamboyant costumes.
3. A fanbase composed mostly of middle-aged and elderly women.
4. A loud, obnoxious refusal to identify as gay.

Liberace claimed to be straight, and sued anyone who implied different.  Richard merely refuses to use the word "gay" in public, anywhere, anytime.  He has never expressed any support of gay causes.  When he is asked about his sexual orientation, he drops pronouns: "I don't have time to date anyone," "I'm not really looking for a relationship with anyone," and so on.

The major difference is: Liberace was popular in the 1950s, when to come out openly would mean career suicide.  It's now 2015, 46 years after Stonewall.  Does Richard really believe that most of his middle-aged female fans think that he is straight?  And would abandon him en masse if he made a public statement?

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