Just in case you haven’t heard about the podcast, here’s a quick recap: Richard Simmons, an American icon of fitness, stepped out of public life three years ago without a word of explanation. Taberski, a friend and former student of Simmons, wanted to find out why. The Huffington Post spoke to Taberski by phone Friday.
This podcast feels like part investigation and part documentary. Do you have a background in news?
Before I worked at “The Daily Show,” I worked at NBC News on “Dateline.” That’s the only job I’ve had in real news. After that I went to “The Daily Show” and spent the next five years making fun of “Dateline”! That said, things happened on “The Daily Show” that involved very similar skills as “Dateline,” like interviewing and being truthful. But I don’t think: all the information at any cost.
I consider myself more in the documentarian mold. I want to tell a story that’s all true and use certain standards, but it’s more about that larger truth.
Why a podcast and not a documentary?
It did start off as a documentary, but when I started working with First Look Media they immediately said it sounded like a podcast. That had not occurred to me, but I thought, “That’s exactly what it is.”
I wanted to tell the story of Richard, but in a way the story had also involved me, as my friendship with him had become part of the story. It’s hard to pull off a great first-person documentary where it doesn’t feel super self-indulgent. A podcast really helps solve that problem. A podcast needs a narrator. My voice let’s me do that. I can get my love for Richard across and my point of view across without pointing the finger too much at myself.
Where did you start in terms of investigating?
I started reaching out to the people in Slimmons, not just the people who took the class but also the people who had relationships and friendships with Richard through the class. The class is at the core of who Richard is.
How did you establish trust?
I was Richard’s friend, too. They knew I wasn’t just a reporter jumping on the story because something salacious was going on. Once a couple of people talked and realized I was legit, then other people came around. I ended up talking to dozens of people. It became a thing I’m proud to have done, because it’s a way to show Richard how much they care about him. So far no one has called me up to say, “Why did I participate?”
I wasn’t trying to expose the bare bones of Richard’s life. I was trying to tell enough and give enough details that Richard would want me to tell. I didn’t want to be reverential, but I didn’t want to pull out all the shit in someone’s life because, who wants that?
What surprised you in the process of reporting?
Everything surprised me about it. It went places that I didn’t imagine. I spent months and months talking to dozens of people whose lives he has, in many cases, saved. Many people I spoke to were alone and isolated and no one had helped them, but Richard reached out to these people. I couldn’t believe the depth of how many lives he changed. I was just surprised and honored to bear witness to these stories, which are incredible stories of how empathetic Richard Simmons is.
What was the biggest challenge?
Telling a story without an ending. It was the biggest challenge and the greatest gift. First Look Media and Pineapple, and viewers and listeners, and everyone got behind something that doesn’t have an ending. If you work in TV or film or documentary, it is so hard to get people to commit money and resource and energy to something that they aren’t convinced has a beginning, middle and end. It’s just not done. The fact that we went in eyes wide open to try and find Richard and tell his story along the way and that people were behind my point of view, it was a huge gift.
|BRIAN VAN DER BRUG/LOS ANGELES TIMES VIA GETTY IMAGES|
Missing Richard Simmons Podcast Claims Are a 'Complete Load of Crap,' Rep Says
Where is Richard Simmons? It’s the question at the center of the most popular podcast in America as friends of the beloved fitness guru delve into his sudden disappearance from public life. And episode three of Missing Richard Simmons, which aired last week, made startling claims.
In the episode, Mauro Oliveira – a longtime friend and former masseuse – repeated his shocking allegations that Simmons, 68, is being held hostage by his housekeeper, Teresa Reveles.
Simmons – once a staple on morning talk shows and TV infomercials – has not been seen in public in nearly 1,100 days.
But Simmons’ rep, Tom Estey, vehemently denies Oliveria’s claims and tells PEOPLE exclusively that the claims in the podcast are a “complete load of crap.”
Estey says the star has merely decided to step back from the spotlight and live a more private life. Attempts to reach Reveles directly were not successful.
Dan Taberski created the podcast as one of the many former friends of Simmons who are now concerned about his disappearance, which started in Feb. 2014. In the most recent episode, Taberski spoke to Oliveira about the last time he saw Simmons, and why he believes Reveles is holding Simmons against his will.
It is now the most popular podcast on iTunes and the first three episodes are among the most downloaded in the country.
“It was 6 p.m., and I went into his house. He was sitting in the living room, and he was very weakly, physically and mentally. He was trembling. He said, ‘Mauro. I called you here because we cannot see each other anymore. I’m just going to stay here,’ ” Oliveira recalls of their last face-to-face interaction in May 2014, three months after Simmons stopped teaching his fitness classes and cut off contact. “I thought of the worst. I thought the worst was going to happen. I thought he was suicidal.”
Oliveira says he tried to get Simmons to go upstairs to his massage room so they could talk further, but Reveles stopped him.
“She realized that I was in the house, she started screaming like a witch, ‘No no no no, get out, get out! I don’t want him here!’ Richard looked at me and said, ‘You got to go.’ I said, ‘Really? Is she controlling your life now?’ and he said yes. And that I have to leave.”
Oliveira says he hasn’t seen Simmons since that day, and neither have any of Simmons’ other former friends. Taberski talked to several of them, all of whom said they can’t get past Reveles to see Simmons.
Estey says these allegations are entirely false.
“Theresa has been working with him for, since I’ve been working with him [27 years]. So, holding him hostage is the biggest, I mean … Theresa is the housekeeper, she’s the caretaker, she is extraordinary, she is amazing, she takes impeccable care of Richard and she has for as long as I have been working with Richard, so that is a complete load of crap,” Estey says.
“Richard made a choice. To live a more private life. If he decides to come back, he’ll come back … People claim that it happened overnight. It really didn’t. We were turning down stuff for years and just kind of quieting down, and when he decides that he wants to come back, that’s when he’ll come back, and when that will be, I have no idea or if he will at all. There really isn’t anything to report.”
And Estey adds that neither he, nor Simmons or Reveles, have any part in the podcast.
“We did not cooperate nor participate in this podcast because we didn’t feel the need to nor did we want to. All these things distract from his legacy and I will not allow that to happen because this man is a world treasure. He has helped millions of people lose millions of pounds. He has saved millions of lives, spent millions and millions of his own money helping and saving people’s lives. This man is a saint, so treat him like a saint and leave him alone.”
Taberski maintains that Oliveira’s account holds up, except for his contention that Reveles is holding Simmons in his home through witchcraft. According to Oliveira, witchcraft is something that make sense to someone like himself and Reveles, who are from Brazil and Mexico, respectively.
And Taberski adds that Oliveira doesn’t have much to gain from telling his side of the story.
“I come from a good place. My only hope is for Richard to get help, and be a happier person, because for the past three years, he has not been a happy person,” Oliveira says. “All the money, all the fame, all the resources, for what? He’s pretty much locked in his home.”