Richard Simmons Spreads The Gospel Of Fitness

Richard Simmons opened his first aerobics studio in Beverly Hills in 1974. Since then, he has been planting himself in America's pop-culture psyche with dozens of infomercials and best-selling books and seemingly endless TV and film appearances. (This piece initially aired August 14, 2012, on Morning Edition.)

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STEVE INSKEEP, HOST:

OK, we're getting into late January. Time to check in on your New Years' resolutions. Resolutions, what resolutions?

(LAUGHTER)

INSKEEP: You forget them by now. But if your resolution was fitness or weight-loss related, then today we're offering a little motivation - an encore presentation of a visit we made last summer to Richard Simmons' aerobics studio in Beverly Hills.

RENEE MONTAGNE, HOST:

Before Simmons became a fitness celebrity, he was a struggling waiter. He saved up a year and a half of tips, to open his studio. Thirty-nine years later, after selling millions of fitness books and "Sweating to the Oldies" videos, he's still here.

INSKEEP: Still teaching, still sweating with anybody who will show up for his $12 sessions. NPR producer Sam Sanders showed up for a workout and sent us this sweaty postcard.

RICHARD SIMMONS: Stomach in, four and five, push it back, six and seven and eight.

And side. Oh yeah, baby.

(SOUNDBITE OF MUSIC AND CLAPS)

SIMMONS: Side and back, come on. Here we go. Come on. Here we go.

(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "RADIO KILLED THE RADIO STAR")

THE BUGGLES: (Singing) Video killed the radio star. Video killed the radio star.

SIMMONS: My friend, Gerry, who's been coming here for many years, and she's just celebrated her 90th birthday.

(APPLAUSE)

GERRY SINCLAIR: My name is Gerry Sinclair. I'm 90 and I celebrated right here at Richard Simmons. Didn't I?

UNIDENTIFIED WOMAN #1: Yes, you did.

SINCLAIR: It was such fun.

JOHN RANDALLS: My name's John, John Randalls, first time.

SAM SANDERS, BYLINE: Why'd you come?

RANDALLS: 'Cause Richard Simmons is a living legend. And...

UNIDENTIFIED WOMAN #2: Because it's here.

RANDALLS: ...'cause it's here, yeah. And if I had an opportunity to spend $12 and spend my morning with Richard Simmons, I was going to do it.

SIMMONS: You know, it's a Broadway show. It is not an easy workout. You know, these people did close to, most probably, five or 600 leg lifts today. But most of all, it did something for their self-esteem. And the more I bark at them and become different characters and drive them crazy, the harder they work.

SANDERS: And I really, I get a little thrill. I'm driving them crazy, just a little bit. And then they'll go home and go, do you know what he said to me.

UNIDENTIFIED MAN: He said I was a hairy, hairy man, and he that offered to wax my legs for me.

(LAUGHTER)

UNIDENTIFIED MAN: So that was quite an experience.

UNIDENTIFIED WOMAN #2: He said I was cute, like a dessert. And it was amazing. He thought I was 16. He thought I looked too young to be in a class like this, I guess. I don't know. I'm 31.

(LAUGHTER)

(SOUNDBITE OF MUSIC)

SIMMONS: Even though my work is whimsical, I have a very serious job. I cry more than I laugh. When I go to bed at night, I ask God to give me another day - very night that I go to bed. I ask him to keep me strong and make me a good teacher and to keep spreading this right word. And, you know, I have to do it till the day I die.

INSKEEP: That is Richard Simmons. NPR's Sam Sanders spent a day at his aerobics studio in Beverly Hills.

It's MORNING EDITION from NPR News. I'm Steve Inskeep.

MONTAGNE: And I'm Renee Montagne.

(SOUNDBITE OF MUSIC)

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