When he wasn’t demonstrating the moves, he was frantically throwing well-worn vinyl records on a Technics turntable.
He led sing-alongs to the summer camp ditty “Kookaburra” and to “The Sound of Music.” His class joined hands and kicked in a chorus line. Everyone was smiling, even when they were grunting to keep up.
After 45 minutes of aerobics and a round of sit-ups, push-ups and weights — which Mr. Simmons oversaw like a drill sergeant — he gave a brief motivational speech on the subject of inner peace.
“Peace is a state of being, where you are happy with who you are,” he said. “I wish you success — some of you are young or changing careers. More than that I wish you peace.”
He closed with: “Have a wonderful day! Thank you!”
This is the Richard Simmons people came to see.
After class, Mr. Simmons ruminated on his appeal. “I show them many facets of my diamond,” he said. “I show them the funny part, the silly part, the laughing part, the crazy part and then the really deep, deep part where I’m talking from my heart to these people. Because I’ve been through everything they’ve been through.”
His story — a well-worn trope about being a fat kid from New Orleans who shed a large amount of weight and kept it off through exercise — is universally appealing.
“Everybody needs somebody that they can connect with,” Ms. Austin said in a telephone interview. “And I think that’s what Richard makes people feel, especially people who are very overweight. It’s all about being genuine.”
Mr. Simmons spends his days writing and calling the thousands of people who reach out to him for advice and inspiration. Sometimes, he will sing to them.
“It’s my whole life,” he said, welling up. “I can’t go to bed at night knowing that I don’t answer something. It upsets me.”
Mr. Simmons says he will keep teaching until no one shows up. It is, he says, his life’s purpose.
Even Ms. Powter, who thinks his shtick has long since worn thin (“He needs to put some trousers on and stop it,” she said), offered begrudging admiration. “To be able to continue going and go with the trends — it’s amazing,” she said. She called Mr. Simmons “the Liberace of wellness.”
Mr. Gaines, the swimmer, said he found his encounter satisfying. “It’s the epitome of what I expected,” he said after the class. “He’s Richard Simmons. He’s the exact same persona you see on TV.”
Photo by Stephanie Diani.