Richard Simmons filed a libel suit Monday against the National Enquirer and Radar Online, alleging that the publications relied on a blackmailer for stories claiming the former fitness guru was transitioning into a woman.
In the suit, Simmons alleges that he has been blackmailed for several years by Mauro Oliveira, a former assistant and friend. The suit alleges that Oliveira went to the National Enquirer with three different explanations for Simmons’ withdrawal from the public eye in 2014. In May 2016, Oliveira allegedly told the Enquirer that Simmons was transitioning into a woman. In June 2016, the Enquirer ran a story claiming that Simmons “is now called Fiona!” Simmons’ reps strongly denied the story at the time.
The story was repeated by Radar Online, and was recirculated recently on the “Missing Richard Simmons” podcast. “If he’s transitioning, mazel tov. But he’s not, I don’t think,” host Dan Taberski says in Episode 5.
In the suit, Simmons said he was forced to choose between staying quiet and tacitly lending credence to the story, and filing a claim and thereby insinuating that there is something wrong with gender transitioning. The suit makes clear that “Mr. Simmons fully supports individual autonomy and the essential human dignity of every person to make his or her own personal choices regarding sexual identity.”
Simmons also says he decided to file the suit because he has “a legal right to insist that he not be portrayed as someone he is not.”
“The law protects the right of every person to be treated with decency and dignity, free from the deliberate propagation of falsehoods that have no motivation other than exploitation,” the lawsuit states.
In a demand for a retraction sent in June 2016, Simmons’ attorneys warned the Enquirer that its story made “Mr. Simmons’ probable future return to the public spotlight more difficult, if not impossible, causing him the loss of many millions of dollars in expectable future earnings.”
“Let us be absolutely clear,” the attorneys wrote. “Mr. Simmons is not a woman; he has not undergone or contemplated sex-change surgery, or any surgery whatsoever to change from a man to a woman; he has not slowly transformed, or transformed in any way, into a female.”
The Enquirer responded on its website, saying that “this is a legitimate story that demands coverage.”
“For Mr. Simmons to claim that his privacy has been invaded is hypocritical when his entire livelihood is based upon the public consumption of his image,” the statement reads. “We stand by our reporting about Mr. Simmons, and intend to vigorously defend this lawsuit and win public vindication of our reports.”