Behind the leg warmers and fluoro, scandal was brewing for these exercise icons

The dark side of keeping fit.
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For more than three decades, Richard Simmons was America’s favourite exercise guru.

Clad in hot pants and bedazzled talk tops, his upbeat and inclusive approach to fitness saw him star in infomercials, publish cookbooks and make regular appearances on television.

Richard Simmons leading an exercise class wearing hot pink
After losing 45kg, Richard was inspired to help others. (Image: Supplied)

His 1998 fitness video Sweatin to the Oldies was a record-breaking success. It grossed over $200 million in sales.


But in 2014, the flamboyant fitness guru mysteriously vanished overnight from the public eye, sending fans into a worried frenzy.

Speculation ran wild with claims he was being held captive by his housekeeper, that he’d had gender affirmation surgery, was terminally ill or had gained so much weight he was physically incapacitated.

This inspired the hit 2017 podcast Missing Richard Simmons made by one of his former fitness class attendees, which attempted to solve the puzzle.

Finally, Richard responded by issuing a statement on Facebook saying, “I’m not ‘missing’, just a little under the weather”.

Earlier this year when it was announced that American comedian Pauly Shore was set to play him in a new biopic, Richard swiftly responded saying that he hadn’t given permission for the production.

The now 75-year-old recently surprised fans. He announced that he’s working on an interactive Broadway show about his life and appears to be back in the public eye.

“I am so excited,” he wrote “I have so many ideas and I’m writing them all down… Broadway is in my blood!”


Susan Powter with short hair wearing all white on stage
Susan made millions through her popular infomercial. (Image: Getty)

Australian born fitness and diet guru Susan Powter was a mid-nineties self-help sensation telling fans, “You gotta eat! You gotta breathe! You gotta move!” in her infomercials.

With her bleached-blonde crew cut and stiletto heels, Powter raged against the scourge of diets and fat substitutes. She claimed they only set women up for failure.

“Stop the insanity,” she told them. In 1993 alone, Powter sold more than $50 million worth of simplified, common-sense wellness advice. “If you can’t pronounce it,” she told followers, “Don’t eat it.”

However, in 1995, three days before her third book was due to be released, Powter filed for personal bankruptcy. She blamed legal battles with her business partners.

“I am broke,” she said. “I just don’t have any money.”

While Powter largely disappeared from the mainstream media spotlight, she still remains active to her followers through online consultations and private sessions.


Women in hot pink bikinis on top and some exercising in a park in bottom pic
There were around 4,500 episodes made. (Image: Instagram)

Aerobics Oz Style helped Australia get up and moving every morning with exercise between 1982 to 2000. The beloved Channel Ten show served up upbeat music and funky leotards against the backdrop of iconic local landmarks.

Instructors included June Jones, Jodie Low, Wendi Carroll and others such as Kelly Martinovich.

After joining the show in 1998, Kelly become a standout personality. But when the show’s production ended, she faced personal challenges.

In August 2022, Martyn Williams stormed into the Perth gym he jointly owned with Kelly, carrying a sledgehammer. He angrily yelled at the high-profile fitness instructor.

Kelly had reportedly tried to end their business partnership. But on facing court, Martyn denied threatening anyone. Just weeks later, Kelly’s son Jaden was charged with murder after allegedly stabbing a 17-year-old in the heart during an apparent botched drug deal.

Jaden, 18, pleaded not guilty to murder. He claimed he was defending himself during an alleged carjacking. His next hearing is in August.


Jane Fonda exercise with wrist sweatbands and sparkly blue leotard with silver belt around her waist
Jane Fonda coined ‘Feel the burn.’ (Image: Getty)

When actress Jane Fonda released her first exercise video sporting a striped leotard and burgundy stirrup leg warmers with her hair fluffed to heaven, she sparked a fitness revolution.

Released on VHS tape in 1982, Jane Fonda’s Workout was an unprecedented success. It launched a fitness series that sold over 17 million copies. “Feel the burn!” and “No pain, no gain” became her catchphrases.

Despite netting millions, the business wasn’t owned by Jane but the organisation she and her then husband Tom Hayden founded to further his political career.

“Tom hated it,” Jane later said of her incredibly successful second career. “Even though all the money went to the organisation. He thought it was all about vanity.”

The couple divorced in 1990 and since then Jane has attributed her dedication to fitness as a crucial part of her recovery from a lifelong eating disorder.

Now 86, Jane has released 22 workout videos.

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