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Why Richard Simmons Hasn’t Been Seen in Public for Three Years: 'He’s Fine, He’s Not Sick,' Says Brother Lenny Simmons

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After embracing fame for 40 years, fitness star Richard Simmons has withdrawn from public life.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!

More than three years ago, Richard Simmons taught his final exercise class, walked out of his Beverly Hills studio and has not been publicly seen again. 

Why?

The mystery surrounding the public disappearance of the self-described “clown prince” of fitness has been fueled by the hit podcast Missing Richard Simmons, which has given rise to sensational claims that Simmons, 68, is being held hostage in his Hollywood Hills home by his housekeeper or possibly transitioning into a woman. But in this week’s PEOPLE cover story, members of his inner circle say that his life of solitary seclusion is self-imposed. 

“My brother is fine,” says his older brother Lenny Simmons, 70. “He’s not sick. There’s nothing medically wrong with him at all. These things about him transitioning to a woman are ridiculous. My wife Cathy and I were out there for Christmas and spent five days with him and I can assure you, he’s not transitioning into anything but himself.”

Rather, the reason for his withdrawal from the spotlight is simple, says Lenny: “After 40-some odd years, he just decided that he wants to rest. He’s 68 years old now and he’s in good health, but he just wants time for himself.”

Adds his spokesman, Tommy Estey: “He’s helped millions of people lose millions of pounds. And for 40 years, he took care of everyone but himself.”

The LIFE Picture Collection/Getty

Now he’s doing just that. Although his signature style for four decades featured short shorts and tank tops, these days he looks slightly different—but is still maintaining his slim weight, says his his longtime manager, Michael Catalano.

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.

 “He looks great, he’s trim and he has a beard, salt and pepper,” says Catalano. “He’s in excellent health, as far as I know.” 

RELATED VIDEO: Missing Richard Simmons Podcast Claims Are a ‘Complete Load of Crap,’ Rep Says

Moses Robinson/Getty

Still, there have been signs of cause for concern. Last summer he was hospitalized for dehydration — and some of his closest friends say they can’t reach him. 

Even his longtime assistant Elijah Jones, who now lives in Mississippi and has known him for 35 years, relies on Simmons’s housekeeper Teresa Reveles for updates.

“I want my friend back in my life the way he used to be,” says Jones.

Still, he insists it’s all Simmons’s decision. “He has just decided to go into a self-delegated seclusion,” says Jones. “And if that’s what he wants to do, it’s not for me to judge.”