Richard Simmons Sensationalism

As someone who spent my childhood in the 1990s and early 2000s, I was exposed a lot to Richard Simmons. Not only was he on TV constantly via talk shows and infomercials, but my middle school used his workout tapes (along with those of Billy Blanks) during our indoor PE fitness day classes.

Richard Simmons was always on the TV when I was a kid.

In a totally non-weird way, I guess you could say I was intrigued with Simmons and his larger-than-life personality. As Simmons faded from the public eye over the past several years, I would read a Wikipedia article or two on him every now and then while also listening to general commentary on his whereabouts.

So, it might not come as a surprise that I was naturally interested in the “What Really Happened to Richard Simmons” documentary that was recently released on Hulu. You know, just some mindless entertainment at the end of a long day?

Although “What Happened to Richard Simmons” was billed as a documentary, it definitely wasn’t.

But what I watched wasn’t a documentary.

To be honest, I refrained from mentioning the entire title of the program: “TMZ Investigates: What Really Happened to Richard Simmons.” Even though the special was billed as a documentary, I should have known better.

Most wouldn’t expect a tabloid empire to produce a hard-hitting, well-researched documentary and TMZ definitely didn’t exceed expectations with its piece on Simmons. Sadly enough, TMZ didn’t even come close to meeting them.

What an awkward mess “What Really Happened to Richard Simmons” was. It mirrored more of the re-imagined news magazine format where journalists and anchors provide canned commentary that is scripted and ultra corny. It was almost embarrassing to listen to the TMZ contributors try to add some life to their fed lines.

But even worse than the cheesiness of the documentary was the pure sensationalism of it. Now I know TMZ was behind the program, but even by its standards “What Really Happened to Richard Simmons” was completely over the top. TMZ tried to make it seem that it was the craziest thing that Simmons was an introvert in his private life. The people behind the show also repeatedly showed clips of Simmons not 100% on-brand and tried to associate it with alarming decline.

There was no shortage of shots of Simmons looking frazzled or off-brand in the sensationalized documentary.

However, the worst of the sensationalism came when TMZ posed its “theories” about why Richard had disappeared from the public eye. They included that he was being held hostage by his housekeeper, that he was transitioning to a woman, and that he was grieving over the death of his puppies. The real cause of his retreat to a more private life? He had a bum knee.

Again, I should have known that “What Really Happened to Richard Simmons” would be more of a click bait hit piece than solid programming. But I think if you attach “documentary” to something, it should deliver more. While I would not recommend “What Really Happened to Richard Simmons” I certainly wish him well. Don’t Blink.