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Missing Richard Simmons: New Podcast Explores Fitness Guru's Withdrawal from Public Life

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Dimitrios Kambouris/WireImage

Richard Simmons may not be transitioning or missing, but a new podcast is setting out to explore the sudden seclusion of one of Hollywood’s most beloved fitness instructors.

Missing Richard Simmons, by First Look Media, is a weekly podcast created by a former student and friend of Simmons, Dan Taberski. It will explore his abrupt departure from the public eye and seek to answer the question of why he seems to have vanished.

Taberski, a former producer on The Daily Show with John Stewart, began taking classes at Slimmons in 2012, the now-closed Beverly Hills fitness studio established by Simmons, and created the podcast as a personal search for the icon, who he befriended.

Courtesy Dan Taberski

Taberski tells PEOPLE Simmons “disappeared” some time after Taberski approached him with the idea of making a documentary on his life.

“I thought it was just me and then I learned he wasn’t returning anyone’s calls and he taught his last class in February 2014,” Taberski says. “That’s what this podcast is about and what became of him. I was interested in him before he disappeared and this just magnified it.”

He describes the podcast as “an open-ended project.” Even though he has not had any contact with Simmons since he withdrew from the public eye, Taberski still hopes to make contact with the fitness instructor who once inspired him.

“I want to find the man behind the persona,” he says. “I think people have forgotten how important he is and how he made it and changed fitness and how he made it for regular people instead of hard bodies who wanted to get harder.”

Check out a trailer for the podcast below.

Simmons’ withdrawal from the public eye sparked rumors of him being held hostage in his home against his will to rumors that he was transitioning into a woman.

His rep, Tom Estey, refuted those claims, telling PEOPLE, “He has decided to live quietly the last few years. He had knee surgery a few years ago and has a bum knee. He is still on Twitter and Facebook and works behind the scenes continuing to inspire and motivate people to lose weight. When he decides to come back, he will come back.”

In October, Simmons announced that he would be closing his long-standing exercise studio after more than 40 years in operation. It officially closed the following month, with Simmons taking to Facebook to deliver a touching statement to his fans.

“I will not see you today because I am not very good at endings. I would just spend the whole time hugging and crying. My eyes would get puffy and red, my hair would get all frizzy and I’d be a mess,” he wrote. “I cannot bear to be sad today. And you shouldn’t be sad either. This should be a celebration of our forty-plus years together dancin’ and sweatin’. So let’s turn this ending into a new beginning.”

Taberski says he’ll continue reaching out to Simmons in an attempt to figure out what caused him to “cut himself off from the world.”

“We haven’t made contact with him and a big part of the process it to reach out to Richard and let him now that he’s loved,” Taberski says. “I think he’s important and I just want to talk to him and find out he’s okay and maybe understand a little bit about what’s going on in his head and what happened to him.”

Missing Richard Simmons premieres Feb. 15 and will be available for free streaming on Stitcher, iTunes, Google Play and Spotify.

  • Reporting by LIZ MCNEIL