Taberski replicates this dance throughout the six episodes: raising a provocative subject, implying that it’s unethical to delve into it, and then basically doing so anyway. In the fifth episode, he rehashes rumors reported by The National Enquirer that Simmons is transitioning, while also stating that he doesn’t believe them. The option of simply not reporting them in the first place doesn’t appear to occur to him. Ditto summarizing the rumors that Simmons is suffering from severe depression, or may have gained all the weight he so famously lost. Even Simmons’s 2016 phone call to The Today Show, prompted by the Daily News story, and during which Simmons assures Savannah Guthrie that he’s happy and healthy and just doing what he wants to do, as he’s always done, doesn’t convince Taberski to leave him alone. “Look, Richard Simmons should spend his time any way he wants,” Taberski says. “I really believe that. But all he has to do is say goodbye. Why won’t he give that to people?”
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This is, to my mind, one of the most troubling aspects of the podcast. Taberski, by his own admission, is using it to try to force some kind of response from Simmons—a final goodbye for his thousands of devoted fans, who’ve come to rely on him for their own mental equilibrium. In the fifth episode, Taberski teases some kind of stunt, possibly involving throwing an item over a wall of Simmons’s house, or a confrontation with Reveles. But it never happens. “A lot of people thought we were joking when we said we didn’t know how Missing Richard Simmons was going to end,” Taberski says. But, in the end, “a lot of stuff ... got the boot,” including the aforementioned dramatic intervention, and a reveal about Oliveira that had previously been teased. Taberski doesn’t explain why, beyond saying that he wanted to be “true to the story, and where it went.”
And where it went was, after all that, where it started. Simmons is, as his manager and his brother have both assured Taberski, doing fine. He simply wants to not be Richard Simmons the personality anymore—wearer of spandex, shrieker of show tunes, emotional supporter of countless Americans. Taberski seems tentatively convinced, but has no regrets. He offers no substantial explanation for why he changed his mind about whether Oliveira’s allegations were trustworthy (the Daily News story, for the record, notes that in 2015, long after Oliveira had last seen Simmons, Oliveira asked Simmons’s accountant for money, and was declined). Nor is there specific walkback on Oliveira’s allegations against Reveles, which included that she practiced witchcraft and exercised mind control over Simmons, although Taberski does own that, “Based on all this information, I believe that Teresa Reveles is just doing her job.”
In the last episode, too, the lines between entertainment and reporting get even more blurred. Hollywood has long perpetuated the idea that dramatic, stalkerish gestures will inevitably earn a happy ending, as my colleague Megan Garber has written. For six weeks the public got to see Taberski test this theory, as he collected account after account from Simmons’s devotees, all of whom missed him dearly. “Richard really digs a grand gesture,” he says. “Foolish or not, this podcast was my grand gesture to Richard. And I was hoping it would be impossible to ignore.” In other words, the podcast was intended to provoke a public reaction from Simmons: to shake him out of his solitude.