With his bouncing body, looming grin, and wild hair, Richard Simmons might have terrified me as a child, but it gives me no pleasure to report that the New York Daily News published a story on the fact that his friends are pretty convinced the exercise mogul and TV personality is being held hostage in his own home by his maid.

Yes, you read that correctly.

This is a story that features a number of colorful characters: Mauro Oliveira, a Brazilian orphan who grew up to be a masseuse and confidante to the rich and powerful Simmons (and who I’m convinced might be the real-life Brazilian version of Pip from Great Expectations), Simmons’ mysterious brother Lenny, who proves to be pretty slap-happy when it comes to restraining orders, and Teresa Reveles, the maid-in-question, and who Oliveira accuses of being an actual witch.

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And then there’s Simmons himself, who disappeared from the public eye in 2014. In the article, he’s painted as a once-carefree snowflake of a man, a generous and kind benevolent force who, according to Oliveira, has now been emotionally abused for years, and, as Oliveira paints it, is quite possibly suffering from a psychological breakdown and/or emotional breakdown.

(Note: the term “mental illness” was not used in the article, and as far as we know, Simmons has never been diagnosed with one. So I won’t bandy the term about here, especially because no one wins when armchair psychologists try to diagnose celebrities.)

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The article more or less follows Oliveira’s POV, and recounts Simmons’ estranged friend about the peculiar final meeting between Oliveira, who was once employed by Simmons, and Simmons himself.

“Richard Simmons opened his front door, frail and trembling. Mauro Oliveira, a visual artist who was also Simmons’ masseur and former assistant, greeted him on the front porch, concerned about his friend. After receiving an ominous phone call from Simmons, Oliveira had driven his truck to the Hollywood Hills, past the two metal gates that Simmons had left ajar for him, and into the driveway. He reached the porch through the white columns that recalled an antebellum Southern mansion, and past Simmons’ bronze statue of a regal Dalmatian.

Wearing a T-shirt and sweatpants, a gaunt Simmons led Oliveira through the foyer, and into the living room. ‘Mauro, we can no longer see each other,’ Simmons told him in a quiet, defeated voice.

‘What’s going on, Richard?’ Oliveira asked. ‘Why are you saying that?’

‘I don’t know,’ Simmons replied. ‘I just want to be by myself, and I want to be in the house, and we’re never going to see each other again.’”

Simmons does not let Oliveira into the house at first, and begins so suspect that something’s not quite right.

“’Let’s talk it over,’ Oliveira said. ‘I want to sit here, and make sure you’ll be OK. Let’s go upstairs, I’ll give you a massage and relax you.’

Simmons called up to Teresa Reveles, his live-in housekeeper of nearly three decades. ‘Mauro is going upstairs with me,’ he said.

‘No, no, no!’ Reveles shouted from the second floor, according to Oliveira. ‘Get out! Get out!’

Oliveira looked at his friend, who told him in a soft voice, ‘You’ve gotta go.’

Oliveira leaned in toward Simmons. Is she controlling your life now?’

As Oliveira tells it, Simmons looked down, and with one resigned word confirmed his worst suspicions: ‘Yes.’ This was the last time he saw his friend.’”

After that, the article also cites similar suspicions from an unnamed friend and June Park, the owner of a wig store that Simmons used to frequent. Park told the NY Daily reporter that the last time she attempted to visit Simmons on his birthday in 2014, Reveles answered the door and turned her away.

Also recounted are two trips Oliveira took with Simmons to Brazil and to Venice, Italy. The former was a philanthropic venture made to the Hope Unlimited in Campinas, where Oliveira spent most of his childhood, and the later as a vacation. Both times, Oliveira alleges that Simmons had emotional outburst and barraged the masseuse with verbal abuses in public, the last which supposedly led Oliveira’s cardiac health to tripwire and eventually lead to a valve replacement for his heart.

The reporter also mentions that he tried to contact both Reveles and Lenny Simmons, who both refused to comment for the story. Simmons’ manager Michael Catalano responded to the request, but only stated that “Richard is enjoying life at home after a 40-year career of traveling the world and inspiring people to take better care of themselves.” He also added that “[Simmons] is working on several projects and continues to encourage those that need his help.”

As mentioned before, Oliveira implies that Reveles is a bonafide practitioner of the dark arts:

“’I think tormented is the best word to describe his mental state,’ Oliveira says. ‘I think it was (caused by) black magic, witchcraft. That’s not close to your culture, but to my culture in Brazil, and to Mexicans’— Teresa Reveles is from Mexico — ‘that is a real thing. They invoke the spirits. They light black candles, and red and blue candles. I’ve never participated. I only saw from a distance. But at services, they do special meals. They offer meals to the bad spirits, and light candles, invoking with words.’”

The former friend went as far as to self-publish an e-book titled King Rich and the Evil Witch. In the tome, Simmons is represented by the character “The Good Goofy King Rich,” positing Reveles as the “Evil Witch Boreza,” and Simmons’ brother Lenny, who attempted to file a restraining order on Oliveira, as “Prince Benny.” As for Oliveira, he appears in the book as “The Artist.”

While it cannot be said for certain that Reveles, Lenny, and Catalano are in on this kidnapping conspiracy in an attempt to milk money out of Simmons, the denizens of the Internet expressed their concern after the article was published on March 12.

A representative for Simmons released a statement the day after the piece was published, which sounded a lot like the one Catalano made to NY Daily:

“Richard, after 40 years of being in the spotlight, is now simply taking a break from the public eye and working behind the scenes to continue to help those millions of people worldwide in need of his assistance and on several projects to be announced soon.”

Simmons himself has yet to comment on the matter at this time.


Contact the author at jamie.reich@jezebel.com.

Image via Getty.