Richard Simmons in 2013 (Photo: Getty Images/FilmMagic, Scott Roth)

Despite what a hit podcast suggested, Richard Simmons never actually went missing. He simply chose to back away from the public eye and live his life free from the demands of society. Unfortunately, that opened the door for his “disappearance” to become reliable tabloid fodder, with the National Enquirer publishing stories between June 2016 and March 2017 about Simmons supposedly transitioning from a man to woman in a “shocking sex surgery” that involved “breast implants, hormone treatments, and consultations on medical castration.”

This comes from The Hollywood Reporter, which says Simmons is now suing the National Enquirer for libel, accusing it and Radar Online (which is owned by the same publisher, American Media, Inc.) of having “cheaply and crassly commercialized and sensationalized an issue that ought to be treated with respect and sensitivity.” The suit also says that the sex-change story directed at Simmons is “particularly egregious,” because the National Enquirer was supposedly betting on him not suing over it since it could make him look anti-transgender. On that point, Simmons’ suit says that he “has a legal right to insist that he not be portrayed as someone he is not,” and that “even the most ardent supporter of sexual autonomy and LGBTQ rights is entitled to be portrayed in a manner that is truthful.”

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As the Hollywood Reporter explains, Simmons is basically positioning his suit “as a stand for dignity and the right to have a gender identity,” not an argument about whether or not it’s an insult to accuse someone of undergoing a gender transition. Naturally, though, the National Enquirer has ways to defend the ridiculous things it publishes, including subjecting sources to polygraph tests and forcing them to sign contracts confirming that they believe their information to be true. That way, the tabloid can claim that it thought whatever lie it was publishing was true at the time, even if it definitely wasn’t.

However, in this case, the man who may have fed the National Enquirer the information about Simmons—a guy named Mauro Oliveira, who has been accused of blackmailing, extorting, and stalking Simmons in the past—apparently admitted the story was fake in an email to Simmons just after it was published. He even supposedly said in the email that he’d publicly discredit the story if Simmons would pay him off. Simmons notified American Media, Inc. about this and demanded a retraction, but the National Enquirer continued publishing reports about the supposed sex change. Because of that, Simmons’ suit says that Oliveira is definitely not a reliable source, and since the tabloid was notified of his untrustworthiness, it shouldn’t be able to fall back on its classic “we trusted our source” defense—at least in theory.

It remains to be seen how this will all work out, but SImmons is looking to get “an unspecified amount of compensatory and punitive damages” in addition to an apology and retraction from the National Enquirer.

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