The Madeleine Brand Show for February 23, 2012

Dances with Richard Simmons

Kevin Ferguson with Richard Simmons

Kevin Ferguson/KPCC

Off-Ramp Producer Kevin Ferguson with the iconic Richard Simmons.

Richard Simmons, with his big hair, bigger personality and tiny shorts, is arguably the most iconic person in American fitness alive today. But did you know that in Los Angeles, for the same price as a yoga class, you can sweat to the oldies with Richard Simmons himself? That's what Off-Ramp Producer Kevin Ferguson did. Sadly, Kevin didn't wear a tutu.

Tucked in a quiet spot behind Santa Monica Boulevard is Richard Simmons' studio, simply called Slimmons. Simmons has owned the studio for almost 40 years. Inside the studio, there's a small waiting room with photos of Richard everywhere, Richard Simmons t-shirts, buttons and towels for sale. The studio has plenty of other instructors, and at just $12 a session. Richard doesn't have to be here.

An hour before the class begins, the first students for the day arrive.

Mary Beth Cornell, from Vernon, Vermont, has been visiting California to see her brother for about fifteen years. "Every time we come, we look for something new and interesting to do. And this appeared in one of the LA magazines and we're like 'Oh, I'd love to do that!' Richard Simmons is such an icon, he's done so much to inspire people, every time I see him on TV my heart wrenches out for him wanting to help me! Help me, Richard!"

Some members have been going to Slimmons for upwards of five or ten years. And then there's Gerry Sinclair. She's 90-years-old; the first time she saw Richard wasn't on tape but in person, at this very studio, 39-years-ago. "Oh, he's absolutely inspiring. He is adorable, he's a delight. He is truly a wonderful human being," she said.

The room gets more and more crowded and finally, Richard arrives. From the bottom up, he's wearing New Balance sneakers with high white socks. His trademark short shorts, two yellow and pink tutus, a bejeweled orange tank top and a feathered mask. He approaches the record player — yes, he still uses real vinyl — drops the needle, and the class starts.

The studio descends into chaos: Richard calling out different moves, the class struggling to keep up, Richard changing out LPs, water breaks, Richard screaming at the top of his lungs during songs, "Your ass is under arrest! I'm gonna lock it up for thirty days!"

He's 63-years-old by the way, and he does this three times a week. We start dancing, lifting weights, doing push-ups. When the class winds down, it's hard to believe that we've been in this room for well over an hour. After it's over, Richard hugs students and poses for photos.

"You know, this is a magical place. I've been here 39 years, on a month-to-month lease. We make people sweat, we make them feel joy, and we show them their self worth." Simmons says. "Look at the people that were in that room with you. You had a 90-year-old woman. You had people in their '20s, '30s, '40s, '50s, I'm in my '60s. And everybody in the room just doing the best that they can."


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