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Sweating With the Oldie

America's original "fitness personality" holds court

Author Christopher Kazarian

ILLUSTRATION BY PETER OUMANSKI

BEVERLY HILLS, CALIF.—Few aerobics instructors can get away with telling their students, “I want to give you a little lick,” let alone threatening to follow them home after class. But when the aerobics instructor happens to be Richard Simmons, pretty much anything goes.

Simmons, who for three decades has been one of America’s most successful fitness gurus, continues to connect with his hard-core fan base by leading a weekly class at his Beverly Hills aerobics studio. Though his trademark Afro is a little smaller these days, the diminutive 64-year-old has lost none of his manic energy.

On a balmy Thursday evening, Simmons makes his grand entrance sporting red spandex shorts and a tank top covered in red feathers and rhinestones. He bounds around the room, hugging and sometimes kissing each of the 70-odd students. Enrollees are mostly female, ranging in age from 19 to 90. All of them are smitten.

“He makes exercising fun,” says Iris Goldman of West Hollywood. “And when you walk in here, you feel loved.”

“Look at Daddy!” Simmons screams suddenly, launching into a workout routine in which he plays an oddball mix of singer, comedian, dancer, DJ and mime. “I’m so hot in these feathers I’m going to lay an egg!” he yells. And then, “I love you more than buttered-down biscuits!”

Afterward, Simmons explains that his wild-and-crazy shtick is a means to an end. “It’s great to get people excited about their health,” he says. “They come in here jubilant: ‘Richard, I lost five pounds and I put on jeans I could never get into!’ That’s just the best thing in the world to hear.”

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TABLE FOR QE2
A small English eatery caters to a big English guest

LEICESTER, ENGLAND—Not long ago, a small, Moroccan-themed eatery in this unglamorous city hosted a celebrity. It wasn’t a huge surprise, as Maiyango ranks among Leicester’s finer dining establishments, and its head chef, Phillip Sharpe, produces sophisticated dishes like terrine of smoked guinea fowl, ham hock and mango. Still, even the best restaurateurs can be forgiven a few jitters when the queen stops by for a bite.

“Ah, hmm, it was interesting,” says head waiter Abby Laarousi. He gestures at the small window in the kitchen door. “There were a lot of faces there.”

As for what Queen Elizabeth II ordered: the trio of “tagine spiced” lamb with root vegetable dauphinoise. And did she like it? Laarousi smiles. “She ate it.”

With that, he goes back to work, asking a nearby diner what he’ll be having tonight. “I’ll have what she had,” the man says, ordering the lamb. —CHRIS WRIGHT

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