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Breakfast With

Richard Simmons

Monday, September 09, 2002

By Patricia Sheridan, Post-Gazette Staff Writer

After three decades of high-energy encouragement, fitness guru Richard Simmons continues his crusade to motivate Americans to get moving and eat right. Growing up overweight in New Orleans, he struggled with body image and insults, but a positive attitude and commitment to the cause have made Simmons the man millions turn to when the weight won't abate. He travels nearly 300 days a year spreading the word on weight loss with evangelical zeal. On Saturday, he will be at the Pittsburgh ExpoMart for WTAE-TV's third annual "Healthy 4 Life Expo," which runs 9 a.m.-5 p.m. Saturday through Sunday. Tickets are $4; children under 12, free.

Q. Your image is so strongly associated with the gym shorts and a T-shirt. Do you ever wear real clothes?

A. I have them on right now! Yes, sometimes, but you have to remember, when you are a 200-pound kid in the eighth grade, your biggest enemy, Patricia, is clothes. Because clothes make you look fat. My father had to take my pants and rip out the inseam and put in a panel. So I've not ever had a good relationship with body image or clothes. I work on it every day, as I help others work on it. Once in a while, I will wear them. For my brother's wedding I got in a tuxedo.

Q. David Letterman seems to upset you when you've been a guest on his show. What is your relationship with him really like?

A. Well, Dave and I love each other; it's just that we cross the line and he makes me cry. On the daytime shows, they want to talk about weight loss and motivation and exercise and how many obese people I've helped in 30 years. At nighttime, they aren't interested in that. It's just parody, comedy and laughter. And some people laugh with me, and some laugh at me, but they're laughing! That's the gift God gave me. Last time I was on and [Letterman] sprayed me with that stuff out of the fire extinguisher, I had an asthma attack, and they had to call the paramedic. I have severe asthma, and I panicked.

Q. Did Dave apologize?

A. No. It's all in the game of humor. But I love him. Maybe one day I'll go back when the wounds are healed.

Q. What do you think of the lawsuit against McDonald's for selling fattening foods?

A. Isn't that just a scream? Remember, you walked in. You ordered. You took the money out, and you ate it. Everybody is responsible for their own destiny, and you can't start blaming a candy maker or a hamburger stand or Coca-Cola.

Q. With all the diet and exercise options out there, why are most Americans more overweight than ever? Is it just a case of the fit getting fitter?

A. I think because right now in America the weight issue is not a priority. Right now it is to get a job, keep a job and pay your bills. The gyms out there are really focused on the fit. If you are overweight and you walk into a gym and it's all Q-Tips and spandex, you are not going to stay. But Americans have to understand their excuse card is filled. Food and exercise is a marriage. It is calories put in, which is energy, and calories taken out, which is exercise.

Q. Weren't you the first to use music for momentum during exercise?

A. Well, I don't know if I was the first. I think I was the first to take songs and create exercise movements to them. You know, when I came to L.A. in 1971, even though I had gone from 268 pounds to 145, I was still overweight in my head. I didn't see any overweight people. They were just all fit people. I took my money out of savings and I opened up SLIMMONS and the rest is "Sweating to the Oldies" history.

Q. What do you think of President Bush's push for Americans to exercise more?

A. It is great to see the president running in his shorts with all these fit people, but that's just not what America looks like. Americans don't run. Americans hardly walk. Although I think President Bush is doing some great things, I don't think he is really doing great in that area. Make me president of the Council on Physical Fitness!

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