Richard Simmons Sues National Enquirer Over Sex-Change Claims
Richard Simmons, the not missing former fitness guru who involuntarily reentered the pop culture zeitgeist earlier this year by way of an ethically murky hit podcast, filed a libel lawsuit against two tabloids for a series of "cruel and malicious" articles suggesting that he was in the process of transitioning from male to female. The lawsuit against the National Enquirer, Radar Online and American Media, Inc. (the tabloids' parent company) was filed Monday in L.A. Superior Court, according to the Hollywood Reporter, who obtained a copy of the complaint.
The 68-year-old has not been seen publicly since February 2014, sparking a bevy of rumors of ranging from reports that Simmons had undergone gender reassignment surgery and was now living as a woman, to theories that he was being held hostage by his housekeeper.
The libel claims are based on a series of articles that the tabloids ran between June 2016 and March 2017 claiming that Simmons was in the process of transitioning into a woman. The Advocate published a piece in June 2016 that called the Enquirer out for the transphobia inherent in their reports, including their decision to post when Simmons' hadn't confirmed his change in gender identity, as well as the tabloid's use of adjectives like “jaw-dropping” and “bizarre,” and terms like “boob job” and “castration” to describe gender-confirmation surgery. The Guardian reports that this will be the first defamation case over reports of gender reassignment surgery.
The lawsuit alleges that information was provided to the Enquirer by a former associate of Simmons' named Mauro Oliveira, and that the Enquirer knew that Oliveira was "not a credible or reliable source."
"Since early 2014, Mr. Simmons has taken a leave of absence from the media spotlight in order to retreat from his 40-year career in television, fitness and other arenas of entertainment. Starting from around May 2015, Mauro Oliveira, an individual who has blackmailed, extorted and stalked Mr. Simmons for several years with the intention of destroying the career and reputation of Mr. Simmons, contacted several press outlets, including the National Enquirer and Radar, and offered information on Mr. Simmons’s disappearance in exchange for a fee,” the lawsuit alleges, according to People.
A spokesperson for American Media, Inc., which owns both Radar and the Enquirer, told People that while they "have not seen Mr. Simmons’ complaint, we stand by our reporting about him, all of which was based on solid sourcing and material evidence.
"The National Enquirer and Radar Online have cheaply and crassly commercialized and sensationalized an issue that ought to be treated with respect and sensitivity," the complaint also states, according to the Hollywood Reporter. "Principles of freedom of speech and press may protect their prerogative to mock and degrade the LGBTQ community. But freedom to speak is not freedom to defame. Mr. Simmons, like every person in this nation, has a legal right to insist that he not be portrayed as someone he is not. Even the most ardent supporter of sexual autonomy and LGBTQ rights is entitled to be portrayed in a manner that is truthful."
Update [3:15 p.m.]: Radar and the National Enquirer have released a joint statement responding to the suit wherein they argue that Simmons' "claim that his privacy has been invaded is hypocritical when his entire livelihood is based upon the public consumption of his image," and maintain that "this is a legitimate news story that demands coverage." They also maintain that their reporting was credible, and they will continue their "ongoing investigation":
Our story was based on credible sources who were in Mr. Simmons’ inner circle. The photos provided to Radar and The ENQUIRER, below, are real — and speak for themselves. We stand by our reporting about Mr. Simmons, and intend to vigorously defend this lawsuit and win public vindication of our reports.
We will also aggressively pursue our ongoing investigation into his life and who is really behind this bizarre and meritless lawsuit.