MY FRIEND RICHARD SIMMONS

Richard Simmons has not been seen in public in a long time. Here is my memory of our friendship with the hope he is doing well.

It was the fall of 1983 in Indianapolis, and I remember doing the classic comedy double-take, snapping my head to the side as I looked incredulously at the cover of The Globe newspaper, one of several trashy tabloids at supermarket check-outs.

In the top left corner of the publication was a photo of exercise guru Richard Simmons, donning a sporty jogging outfit while running in Central Park. Next to him was me, at the time the new host of a morning talk show in New York, but not well-known enough to merit being identified. The caption read: “Jog with a Lover.” This was pre-Seinfeld’s “…not that there’s anything wrong with that,” but there was something inaccurate about it. Yes, we were friends, which is why reports of his absence from the public have been so troubling to me.

At the time, Richard was a cultural icon, dedicated to helping people battle obesity as he once had.  I first met him in the ’70s in Columbus, Ohio, early in his career. On my evening talk show, he chose people from the audience and counseled them on stage.  My wife, Mary Ellen, admitted later that at first she was a bit skeptical of his sincerity (was it all show biz?), but at the end of the evening she witnessed Richard, off camera, consoling an overweight teen. Both Richard and the young lady were in tears.

Two years later in the Big Apple, where I hosted an evening show called New York People, I was walking with Richard to one of his favorite eateries to tape an interview.  As we strode along Fifth Avenue, a woman stopped us and told Richard that her mother had a terminal illness and that Richard had always been an inspiration to her.  With that, he hailed a cab and sped off to the hospital to pay his fan a visit, leaving me alone on the sidewalk with an entire production crew.

In 1991 I began my 27-year stretch at WISH-TV as a morning feature reporter. That gig included what I consider to be my funniest three minutes of unscripted live TV.  Richard was making an appearance at a local mall, his plane set to land very early in the morning.  Because my segment was live, I had no way to ensure his on-time arrival during the broadcast. In my greatest stroke of luck, his limo pulled up while I sat on my front step interviewing a professional clown and a very overweight chef, both of whom had wanted to meet Richard.

When Simmons exited the car, we all broke into an exercise routine at 5:30 in the morning. Anchor David Barras completely lost his composure back in the studio, despite having several serious news stories still to report. Weeks later, I received a note from Richard: “And there we were in front of your house at 6:00 a.m. A clown, a chef and a baby beagle.  Nobody would believe this.” (Believe it. You can find it on Youtube at: WISHTV Daybreak-Laughing)

A few years back Richard agreed to write a blurb for my book of humor columns. “You’ll laugh your buns off,” he characteristically wrote. That’s the last I’ve heard from him.

I hope Richard is safe and happy.  Will all the people whose lives he has touched ever forget him?  I’d say the chances are slim.

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CELL MATE written by Dick’s cell phone

 

Hi! Dick Wolfsie’s cell phone, here. My earlier model wrote a column about 10 years ago to tell you how a tough a job this is. Things have gotten no better since then.

He misplaced me 43 times in the past 18 months. Of course, I was never really lost. I knew exactly where I was, but have you ever tried to get this guy’s attention?

What a week I’ve had. On Sunday, we were at the Boat, Sport and Travel Show where Dick was doing a daily TV segment. First, I was in his back pocket, then he tossed me onto the hood of an RV. Then he shoved me under his coat on a bench. He started looking all over for me. He borrowed someone else’s phone to call me. I was totally charged up for this. Success!

So, we headed home. He threw me in his car and I fell between the seats. He started looking for me while driving. This is more dangerous than texting. He found me. He also found his lost AARP card and a $100.00 expired Amazon Gift Card.

Monday morning, he took a shower and as he was drying off he put me in the pocket of his bathrobe. He walked around the house while he was waiting for a call that never came. There was no way he was going to remember where I was once he hung up the robe.  I knew I was gonna spend the entire night in the bathroom.

Tuesday, 8 a.m., he started looking for me. He checked every dresser drawer, under the bed, even the freezer (where he once left me for three days).  He called me from his wife’s  phone but my battery was dead again. I called up every ounce of energy. I even tried to vibrate a little. No luck.

Wednesday, Dick finally found me in his robe when he showered again, but then he threw me in his briefcase and I landed in one of those divider pockets. This meant big trouble. Sure enough, I was lost again.  Since there is no landline phone in the house, there was no way to call himself.  Didn’t matter:  I was on silent mode, anyway.

By Saturday, he was desperate. Dick headed to the cell phone store to buy a replacement. His contract was almost expired, so they made him a deal on a sexy new model with a lot of extra bells and whistles. He fell for it. Men! The salesperson destroyed me digitally through the store’s computer. I was cellular non grata.

Dick got back in the car and headed home.  Suddenly, he had a flash of insight. He pulled over, grabbed the briefcase, turned it upside down and shook it back and forth.  I managed to fall through the broken zipper and tumbled to the floor. I was okay, but being without a charge for a three days, I was spent.

Sunday: We headed back to the phone store. He told the clerk he didn’t want his new phone. He wanted his old friend back. I was touched. My circuits welled up.

Last night, Dick stuck me in his sweat pants pocket while he was exercising in the basement.  I’m now in the bottom of the laundry basket. Don’t expect to reach Dick any time soon. He only does the laundry once a week.

 

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