Keynote Speaker Richard Simmons Brings Laughs and Tears

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The words “keynote speaker” seem a little odd when followed by the name Richard Simmons. We didn't know really what to expect when we asked the fitness phenomenon to do us the honor today at Club Industry 2010. But we all knew that he wasn't going to get up on stage in a suit and tie with a stack of index cards.

And of course, he didn't he let us down. Simmons took the stage with his characteristic ebullience and immediately warmed up – literally – his audience by inviting different groups to take the stage to dance. First it was everyone under 30 years old, then anyone who'd lost weight, and finally a hand-selected (by Richard, of course) group of muscle-bound men. It was impossible not to laugh, watching a posse of personal trainers, club owners and managers gyrate, thrust and shimmy along to Simmons's choreography as Right Said Fred's “I'm Too Sexy” blared out of the conference hall's massive speakers.

But while everyone knows Simmons as an entertainer and fitness enthusiast, perhaps not as many know he is also a club owner. And it was from that perspective that Simmons – after the music was turned off and the audience settled down – addressed his audience of fitness business professionals.

His voice cracking at times, Simmons told his own very emotional story of how he got into the fitness business. Overweight from childhood, Simmons said he took diet pills and laxatives and purged after meals to try to keep the pounds off.

“I hated being fat more than anything,” he said, with his eyes welling up with tears.

Simmons's unhealthy weight-loss methods eventually landed him in a hospital after he'd lost 123 lbs. in two months. That was his turning point.

Though he'd experimented with dieting many times over the years, he said he'd never incorporated exercise into his weight-loss efforts until he moved to Los Angeles in the early 1970s.

“When I saw someone running in New Orleans [where Simmons hails from], I called the police because I assumed they must've stolen something.”

In Los Angeles, and by then eating healthily, Simmons started taking exercise classes. He also waited tables and saved as much money as he could.

“Thirty-five years ago, I took the $25,000 I'd saved up and opened a fitness club, Slimmons, on the wrong side of the tracks in Beverly Hills,” said Simmons. “I still teach more than 200 classes a year there.”

Now 62, Simmons is still as enthusiastic about fitness as he was when he started his club, but he's even more enthusiastic about making people feel good about themselves.

“I have one piece of advice to give my peers and fellow club owners,” Simmons told his audience. “Know no strangers! Make everyone in your club feel like a million dollars. I hug people and tell them that they can do it. I tell them that I want them to come back at least three days a week and they do.”

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