Depending on your point of view, Richard Simmons has either been missing since February 2014 or is simply taking a break from the public eye. One thing that's crystal clear is that a documentary podcast about the fitness guru is blazing hot across the country.
Now three episodes in — it launched on the three-year anniversary of when Simmons stopped showing up in public — Dan Taberski's "Missing Richard Simmons" was the No. 1 podcast Tuesday on iTunes and all three episodes were on the top 10 list. On Stitcher, the app affiliated with the podcast, it's at No. 2 among top shows and in the top 10 most shared.
It has also sparked a new denial that Simmons is in any way missing.
"As I have stated in the past, these claims are untrue and preposterous," longtime Simmons rep Tom Estey told People on Tuesday.
A series of denials over the years didn't deter Taberski, who went to Simmons' classes at the now-shuttered Slimmons studio in Beverly Hills, dined at his house and considers himself a friend of the 68-year-old.
He, like others in Simmons' circle, was confused by the way his friend simply didn't show up at class one day, no notice or explanation given, he says in the podcast. His abrupt disappearance from public life spawned tabloid headlines that have been denied either by Simmons or his team.
"No one is holding me in my house as a hostage; I do what I want to do as I've always done," Simmons said by phone on the "Today" show a year ago. "So people should just believe what I have to say, because, like, I'm Richard Simmons."
Last June, a post went up on Simmons' Facebook page denying that he was undergoing gender reassignment. "Some tabloids have recently falsely reported that I am transitioning. In response, I feel compelled to set the record straight and refute these lies," the post said.
The difference between the splashy headlines and the "Missing" podcast is the methodical documentary sensibility that Taberski — a former segment producer for "The Daily Show" — brings to the story.
Sure, he discusses the speculation that has populated gossip publications. But he also interviews many of Simmons' friends. He tries to visit Simmons at home, where housekeeper Teresa Reveles gives him and his producer the brush-off. He hangs out with a Hollywood tour guide who could count on Simmons as the celeb most likely to pop out of his house and interact with fans. And he talks about how emotionally raw Simmons was during the workouts he led at Slimmons.
Taberski's unearthed a possibly prescient interview the fitness star did in 2012 on the Sklarbro Country podcast. Asked about whom he hangs out with for fun, Simmons got real.
"I don't hang out with people," he said. "I live a very recluse life. … I teach my class, I kiss everybody, I take hundreds of photos and I go home. I socialize with no one. I haven't been to anyone's house in seven years."
Now, through "Missing Richard Simmons," people are, in a sense, hanging out with him.
"This is about hopefully recontextualizing him a bit," Taberski told Wired shortly after the podcast debuted. "People laugh at him now, they've lost perspective on who he is. I want to make him three-dimensional again."