Anyone who grew up in the 1970s is likely to have seen at least one episode of Richard Simmons’ workout show. Among the first advocates of aerobics, his flamboyant and encouraging show got millions up and off their sofas and in better health.
Then, like someone flicked a switch, he was gone. After more than two decades of talk show appearances and at-home workout video promotions, Richard Simmons left the limelight to enjoy his golden years. Yet, the general public missed his vibrant personality and worried about his health and wellbeing. This prompted unusual amounts of interest that the paparazzi was glad to pick up and run.
As is so often the case with this group, things went too far too fast, and in 2018, Mr. Simmons decided that enough was enough.
Here’s what his lawsuit against BMG (the previous owners of gossip publication In-Touch Weekly) claims: A private detective named Scott Brian Matthews was hired by the firm’s editors. His sole duty was to follow Simmons around and attempt to get some photos of the reclusive celebrity.
Rather than using good, old-fashioned foot-work, Simmons claimed that a GPS tracking device was installed on his caretaker’s vehicle.
In reaction to the lawsuit, BMG decided to attempt to get it dismissed by citing anti-SLAPP laws. The acronym stands for Strategic Lawsuits Against Public Participation, and these laws are meant to halt anyone from filing a lawsuit that is designed to censor, silence, or otherwise intimidate their critics.
According to BMG, the lawsuit filed by Simmons was focused on their newsgathering actions and that he was seeking to remove their anti-SLAPP protection by stating that their activity was illegal.
The court agreed that reporting was free speech, but wondered whether that was the focus of the claim, and rejected BMG’s claims. The findings of the court indicated that hiring a photographer to wait outside of the Cedars-Sinai Medical Center on April 17, 2018 was within their legal boundaries, but their claims that they were not responsible for his conduct were invalid.
BMG conceded that their photographer’s placement of the device was not protected speech or even a legal action. At that point, they also said they had only hired the guy to take photos and did not hire him to place the device. Yet, the court disagreed and said that BMG had hired two firms to “stake out the hospital during Simmons’s visit and to track and report on Simmons’s whereabouts.”
Thus, with that language from their own argument, the courts said that there was no violation of their anti-SLAPP protections in Simmons’ claims.
The photographer who placed the device on the vehicle was charged with two counts of unlawfully using an electronic tracking device. He was also charged with two counts of vehicle tampering. He received three years probation for his choice.
Richard Simmons has faced intense scrutiny from the press for years. In 2014, he was forced to wait for more than 40 minutes inside his own garage while his housekeeper sought to get him home from the hospital. Cameras even recorded her paying a taxi driver and heading inside.
Simmons sought to eliminate the problem with a lengthy tweet that began, “Aren’t you sick of hearing and reading about me?! LOL.” He then went on to remind people to reach out and ask for help if needed, and reassure everyone he was feeling better. The public interest in his whereabouts is one thing, but having tracking devices on vehicles is another. Hopefully, he will soon enjoy the privacy and peace he deserves for bringing so many millions of people joy and good health.