Julie Mazziotta and Liz McNeil
March 22, 2017 07:00 AM

After embracing fame for 40 years, fitness star Richard Simmons has withdrawn from public life. Now friends and family address the mystery surrounding his disappearance from the spotlight. Subscribe now for the exclusive details – only in PEOPLE!

In the three years since Richard Simmons disappeared from public life, rumors about why he chose to remain inside his Los Angeles home have intensified — along with speculation that he is transitioning into a woman.

It’s not true, says his longtime rep.

“I said to him the other day, ‘There are people that think you are a very overweight, depressed woman.’ And he laughed. He just laughed,” Michael Catalano tells PEOPLE in this week’s cover story.

Rather, Catalano, who visited the 68-year-old Simmons early last week, says that other than a dehydration scare last year, the fitness guru is “in excellent health, as far as I know.”

Harry Langdon/Getty

But Simmons was hurt by reports that he is transitioning, which were first mentioned in the National Enquirer and brought to light again in the last few weeks by the hit podcast Missing Richard Simmons.

RELATED VIDEO: Simmons Sayings: 6 Quotable Richard Simmons Moments

“That was absolutely untrue, hurtful, and very, very damaging to Richard personally,” Catalano says. “He’s very aware of what’s happening, you know, but it’s tough.”

What happened to Richard Simmons? Close family and friends give PEOPLE the real scoop on the beloved fitness guru’s mindset during his last three years out of the spotlight in the latest issue, on stands Friday.

Rodrigo Vaz/FilmMagic

Catalano says that Simmons — who has maintained his 150-lb. weight and now has a salt-and-pepper beard — just wanted time to himself after 40 years of nonstop work.

“It was always about everybody else first, and I think this is a little bit reflection time,” Catalano says. “It doesn’t mean he’s done, but for now, he’s enjoying the time away from the public.”

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