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A new podcast called Missing Richard Simmons explores the man who captured the heart of men and women trying to lose weight around the nation in the ’80s and ’90s, and his sudden withdrawal from the public eye. The six-episode podcast, hosted by Dan Taberski, delves into an exercise trend that once reigned supreme in many households, and has brought milennials a deep curiosity about their parents’ way of exercising. So dust off your VCR players and bring out the tracksuit to pay tribute to Richard Simmons and seven other celebrities that are responsible for the neon spandex, leotards and big hair of our childhood nightmares.
Before Richard Simmons became the main character in an investigative journalism podcast, he was the flamboyant fitness legend behind the aerobics video craze. As a child growing up in New Orleans, he was obese for much of his early adolescence. His 100-pound weight loss journey spawned the fitness routine that became a staple in many American homes. His most popular video workout series, Sweatin’ to the Oldies, show Simmons decked out in the outfit that he became known for—sequined micro-shorts and brightly colored tank tops. His videos show elaborate routines with men and women of all shapes and sizes having a great time as he jokes and dances around them. He claims to be responsible for a combined weight loss of approximately 12,000,000 pounds (5, 500, 500 kilograms) over his 40-year career.
After writing the successful Jane Fonda’s Workout Book, Fonda initially turned down the offer to star in her own fitness video because she didn’t know anyone that owned a VCR. The fitness video The Jane Fonda Workout eventually became the best-selling home video of all time. Fonda went on to release a total of 23 videos that sold more than 17 million copies. While she also has an incredibly successful acting career as a two-time Oscar winner, many people will always remember her in the lemon yellow leotard and matching legwarmers that she wore on the cover of her first fitness video.
Elle Macpherson, the Australian supermodel, was given the nickname, “The Body” by Time Magazine when she was 26 years old. After gracing the cover of the Sports Illustrated swimsuit issue five times, she released a fitness video called Your Personal Best Workout in 1995. The video has fitness pro Karen Voight instructing Macpherson in an upbeat routine that combines aerobics and body sculpting exercises.
Cher, the second Oscar winner to be included in this list, released her workout video in 1991. Sporting black lingerie-like exercise gear and joined by her personal trainer Kelli Roberts, she presented a comprehensive fitness routine set to amazing music including Dusty Springfield, Billy Idol and of course some of her own top hits.
Before Paula Abdul became a judge on American Idol, she was a hugely successful choreographer and pop singer, working on music videos for stars like Janet Jackson as well as the famous sequence for the giant keyboard scene with Tom Hanks in Big. In 1995, she released her workout video, Get Up and Dance, which featured choreographed routines set to a fast-paced, hip-hop style workout. She went on to launch two more; Cardio Dance in 1998 and Cardio Cheer in 2005.
Credited as the youngest fitness instructor on this list, Alyssa Milano released her workout video Teen Steam when she was just 15 years old. Milano, a huge fan of Jane Fonda’s workout videos that were released a few years prior, used her fame from playing Samantha on Who’s the Boss? to inspire teenagers around the nation to exercise at a time when physical education funding was being cut in many public schools. The actress looks back on her video fondly, especially the closing scene showing her singing the theme song with a framed photograph of Corey Haim, her boyfriend at the time, prominently displayed in the background.
Actor Mark Wahlberg was once known as ’90s rapper Marky Mark, and was also one of Calvin Klein’s most successful underwear models. Taking advantage of his body being the fascination of men and women around the nation, he released his own workout video titled The Marky Mark Workout: Form, Focus, Fitness in 1993. Chock full of ’90s slang, flirting and seductive whispering into the camera, the video is a workout regime for only the most serious weight lifters.
While not a workout video in the traditional sense, Suzanne Somers is responsible for a trend all her own; the fitnessroutine infomercial. Known for her roles in Three’s Company and Step by Step, Somers became the official spokesperson for the Thighmaster; an exercise equipment that is squeezed between one’s thighs—and the butt of many inappropriate jokes. The infomercials ran throughout the early 1990s and led her to being inducted into the Infomercial Hall of Fame in 2014.