Richard Simmons is a hard person to forget. The volume of his voice is matched only by the volume of his clothing, and there was a period of time—the 80s and 90s, mostly—when he brought all of that to talk shows, television programs, and movies on a regular basis. He’s bright. He’s boisterous. He’s easy to spot. Only, for a few years, Richard Simmons hasn’t been spotted at all.
So begins Missing Richard Simmons, a podcast from Dan Taberski, a friend and former student in Simmons’s old workout class, Slimmons. The podcast brings together personal stories from Taberski, details from a New York Daily News article from last year, and original reporting to piece together possible narratives related to the disappearance of the flamboyant fitness advocate (you’re presented with a few in the first couple of episodes). You hear from tour bus drivers who used to see Simmons in his front yard all the time, waving and inviting passengers out to take pictures. You hear from people who used to talk to Simmons on the phone every week, receiving unsolicited encouragement on their journey to a healthier life. You hear from old email pen pals. His disappearance, because of how gregarious he was, is bizarre, sad, and so damn compelling.
The last podcast to spark this kind of buzz was Serial, which launched on October 3, 2014. The first episode of that podcast was downloaded around 100 million times and the series received awards for the reporting done on convicted murderer Adnan Syed and whether or not the evidence should have been enough to convict him. Missing Richard Simmons is nothing like Serial, outside of the fact that it’s also highly bingeable and it’s also expertly produced. It is, however, the first podcast since Serial‘s release that has garnered such attention—and that attention is warranted.
Missing Richard Simmons is a wonderfully polished real-life mystery. The production value is high. Interviews, stories, and opinions blend seamlessly, and Taberski proves he’s a skilled storyteller. There’s something uncomfortable and a tad voyeuristic about the whole production, however. Maybe Simmons wanted to slip away from the spotlight. Maybe it all finally took its toll. Maybe, after years of attention-grabbing outfits and Sweating to the Oldies, Simmons craved some privacy. This very well may turn out to be the case. Or maybe it won’t. What we can tell you is, even if you didn’t care one iota for Richard Simmons, you should be listening because this shit is crazy.