Richard Simmons
Richard Simmons' Kitchen Party
Sweatin' Over a Salad with the Deal-A-Meal Meister

By Patty LaNoue Stearns

DETROIT--Richard Simmons rolled up to the Free Press last week in a black stretch limo with big yellow lights, emerging in a sequined, hot pink tank top and his signature short-shorts. Never mind that the temperature outside was only 40. The wild man who brought the world Deal-a-Meal and Sweatin' to the Oldies is a freight train of fun, ready to tell anyone who'll listen about his new book, Farewell to Fat (GT Publishing, $19.95).

In person, as on TV and video, Simmons is a perpetual party--a whirling blur of fuzzy hair and well-toned flesh. He shouts, waves, hugs, mugs, kisses, laughs, twirls, dances, hoists people up by their legs and regularly breaks into song. "You have to sing--music is part of cooking, and cooking to me is loooove," he coos, then yells: "Hi! C'moooon in! Put oooon the sweats! We're gonna make a chopped salad!"

For 25 minutes, Simmons is the quintessential Energizer Bunny, dancing around the Free Press test kitchen, never letting up on his shtick, which he calls "aerobic-culinary-vaudeville."

"I'm from New Orleans, born in the French Quarter, and everything's fried--and that's how I basically ate. As a matter of fact, there's a funeral home, and when you die, they deep-fry you."

As he assembles his salad, he offers snapshots of his life:

  • "My mother taught me how to chop vegetables because instead of a therapist, she would get the knife out and just chop."
  • He just turned 48: "July 12 -- I'm a Cancer with chocolate rising."
  • He weighed 200 pounds when he was 8 years old, 268 pounds when he graduated from high school. "And then someone left a note on my car, and it just simply said: 'Dear Richard: You're very funny, but fat people die young--please don't die.' "
  • After that, he starved himself, losing 137 pounds in 2 1/2 months. The lack of protein and other essential nutrients caused his hair to fall out at age 19.

"So this is all a hair transplant," he says, inches from my face, pushing back his curly brow to reveal a scalp dotted with rows of hair plugs.

Simmons--who frequently kibbitzes on late-night TV with Letterman and Leno--has been proselytizing health and fitness for a quarter-century. "I opened the first salad bar, called Ruffage, in Beverly Hills 25 years ago. And before that, there were no salad bars." Five years later, he opened the restaurant/fitness center Anatomy Asylum, now called Slimmons, which he still operates in Beverly Hills.

He did a four-year stint in the '70s as a fitness instructor on the soap opera "General Hospital," had bit parts on several other TV shows, wrote numerous books, starred in more than a dozen videos and has used his irreverent sense of humor over the years to help heavy people--several so large they were totally housebound--lighten up. Simmons just dropped some weight himself.

"I've been drinking just pure water for 60 days and lost 14 pounds. Not by changing breakfast, lunch or dinner--just by removing all the diet sodas, all the designer teas. People think they're hungry, but usually they're just thirsty."

And forget about those oddball diets--all-protein, all-carbos, all-anything. Simmons warns: "I just read one, so strange: breakfast at 11, lunch at 1:30. People can't live in that kind of a world." Then he shrieks: "What a wonderful, wonderful world it would be!"

Cutting up
Simmons hopes his new book will get people back into cooking. "I go to high schools, colleges--nobody knows anything about food anymore. It's all takeout. It's really sick. And then the cookbooks that come out are so confusing, and there are so many ingredients that you have to go and have a secret word. You have to go (he whispers) hakuna matata."

Farewell to Fat contains no Lion King lingo such as that, just 80 straightforward, American-style recipes that are low in calories and fat, easy to follow and fun to read because of Simmons' off-the-wall quips. Simmons preaches portion control, clearly outlined at the top of each recipe.

"People make something and they eat it all: "Hi--I'm one person and I just ate for four--I ate for the Waltons.' "

He continues: "I know people who get dressing on the side and start with good intentions. Then when they're done with the salad, they start dipping bread in the dressing."

The finale
Simmons is really wound up. He puts the finishing touches on his salad, cutting a lettuce leaf into a little bowl with scissors.

"We're making you an American Quilt salad," he tells me. "It's in the book under "Not Just Another Head of Lettuce.' " He screams: "Ahhhhm not jeeeest another head of lettuce!" Then: "Let US entertain you . . . let US make you smile! . . ."

Simmons reveals that he has another book in the works, Salad, My Secret, with 100 salad recipes and 50 dressings. "I want people to get back in the kitchen, to buy produce," he cries. And he has another video coming out soon: Dance Your Pants Off.

His salad's finally done. "What I try to do here is almost make a Carole King song: 'My life has been a tapestry of rich and golds and silks-ah!'" he wails. The salad is colorful, the dressing's tasty, and Simmons, whose limousine has been idling in front of the Free Press the whole time he's been in the kitchen, kisses and hugs goodbye. Then there's picture-taking, autograph-signing, and Simmons and his entourage are out of the kitchen, down the hall, at the elevator.

The door closes. Simmons is still singing. All the way down to the ground floor.

Copyright Detroit Free Press



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