UCR students gathered in a massive line outside of the Student Recreation Center at around 5pm on Thursday, Feb. 9. Bright colors, spandex shorts, headbands and off-shoulder tops were seen at every corner, along with gaping smiles and jittery excitement. Posters all over campus had advertised Richard Simmon’s fitness class event and had given the instructions to wear 80’s themed clothing. A bridge of colorful balloons welcomed everyone in to a cluttered lobby, while fitting music (such as Michael Jackson and Madonna) pumped from inside the basketball court.
In the lobby, booths from The Wellness Program gave out free pins, key-chains and flyers. There was another booth for people to sign up for the Look-a-like contest and a best outfit contest. An arcade booth featured a spin-the-wheel game of different 80’s trivia questions; prizes included an Etch-a-Sketch and a light-up board game. It soon became so packed that people were bumping shoulders and scraping past each other to get into the ASPB co-sponsored event. Free glow sticks were quickly snatched by many and placed upon the head, creating an amazing visual of unity seen through neon halos. The abundant amount of camera and video coverage also signaled that this was definitely one of UCR’s biggest highlights of the year.
A live DJ, shining spotlights and a growing crowd inside the dark basketball court felt reminiscent of a high school dance or even UCR’S annual Heat music festival. Once Richard Simmons was called to the stage, people were jumping up and down and screaming as he stood beaming in a bedazzled red tank top, tiny shorts and a pair of white sneakers.

As he introduced himself, the audience was absolutely ecstatic about his generous amount of energy, his impeccable sense of humor and his sincere humility. His workout routine, which started promptly, was full of flamboyant dance moves and heart-racing cardio; both which the audience eagerly ate up.

Simmons would pause suddenly in the middle of his routine and squint out to the audience while hundreds stood and stared back, confused and aloof. “Oh my God,” he said. “You two are so pretty! Are you sisters?” or “You, the one who looks like a tramp, get up here,” and the audience would laugh in correspondence.
The most memorable part of the event, however, was not the high-energy workout. It was the moment that the music ended, the audience clapped and cheered, and he told everyone to sit down right where they were. Someone would occasionally hoot and holler but he would motion for them to quiet down, indicating the seriousness of what he was about to say.

He began by telling us his real name, which is Milton Simmons, and that he grew up in New Orleans with two very poor parents and a brother. Both parents were aspiring stars that “didn’t make it,” and Simmons took the opportunity to remind everyone that out of every star, there are a million who don’t make it.

Even as a young boy, he could not bear to see his parents suffer. At the tender age of eight he began selling pralines and being funny on the street, collecting the cash he had made from the entire day and putting it on his parents’ bed at night. In school Simmons was bullied and rejected, particularly from one boy who would hit him over the head with a bat every day for six years. He developed compulsive eating habits and graduated high school at a staggering two hundred and sixty eight pounds. Eventually Simmons began abusing his body, trying everything from overdosing on laxatives to developing bulimia.

His tragic story reached a climax when he decided to starve himself for two months; the result was a loss of over one hundred pounds that ultimately landed him in the hospital. In tears, Simmons recalled what his nurse had asked him: “Do you want to live, or do you want to die?” He answered, “I want to live.”

He realized that he needed to make a change, starting with exercise and a proper diet. He moved to Hollywood to pursue his dream, which consisted of two things: making people laugh, and helping people. He began working as a waiter on roller skates donning a pair of wings. His personal diet consisted solely of flour tortillas, cheese, and black pepper. From this, Simmons saved $25,000 and decided to open up his own fitness studio.
Success fell into place shortly after he scored the Richard Simmons show, and his personality and character proceeded to touch lives everywhere. At the age of 64, he still teaches at that same studio he opened years ago. Simmons ended his speech with a unified prayer before all participants stood up, clapped endlessly and wiped away tears.

Greg Wontorek, a 45 year old staff member at the UCR Transfers & Admissions office who was fully donned in full 80’s gear said, “He is a huge inspiration for everyone. Before Biggest Loser and all those other TV shows, he was the one who would sit next to obese people and cry with them. He was the one who reached out, identified with people, and started a huge movement. Him being here tonight really is a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity.”