Dr. Ruth and Richard Simmons: The Original Health Influencers

In the span of about 24 hours, the world lost two unique figures of the health world: Dr. Ruth Westheimer and Richard Simmons.Westheimer's spokesman, Pierre Lehu, confirmed the renowned sex counselor/radio/talk show host died on July 12 at age 96 at her home in New York City. Shortly thereafter, Simmons's rep, Tom Estey, confirmed the legendary, flamboyant fitness instructor died on July 13 at his home in Los Angeles at age 76. Both Westheimer and Simmons became famous in the 1980s and were one-of-a-kind experts in their health fields. They were personalities unlike anyone else that came before them. For Westheimer, the frankness with which she talked about sex was a remarkable juxtaposition to her sweet-sounding voice and tiny 4-foot-7 frame. For Simmons, his over-the-top nature -- not to mention his trademark sparkling tank tops and short-shorts -- was the polar opposite of every male fitness guru that preceded him. Westheimer and Simmons were special for a variety of reasons, but one of the most important things they had in common was that both of them truly seemed to care about people. Sure, they both published books and had various business ventures, but at the core of what they did was caring for people. Today, there are all kinds of health influencers on social media and beyond, but most seem to lack the compassion and fun that Westheimer and Simmons delivered.That compassion and fun was often on full display when Westheimer and Simmons appeared on late-night talk shows. In fact, David Letterman seemed to have a soft spot in his heart for Westheimer and Simmons. Over the years, both appeared on Letterman's late-night talk shows, often to hilarious results.In the clip below showing a 1982 appearance on Late Night with David Letterman, Westheimer immediately makes Letterman uncomfortable by asking him if he's using contraceptives. At the time of this interview, Westheimer's WYNY radio show, Sexually Speaking, expanded from a 15-minute program airing after midnight on Sundays to an hour-long program airing on Sundays at 10 PM. Letterman asks whether she receives many crank calls, and Westheimer says no. She explains, "I do talk very explicitly [about sex], but I do think the reason we don't get crank calls ... is because there's a tremendous amount of need for this kind of sexual literacy." https://youtu.be/8b_fmxbl_ow?si=f0w3N2L9LUf2KZCN As for Simmons, he was seemingly game for just about anything from walking through a New Jersey neighborhood and knocking on doors with Letterman to dressing up as "America's Valentine" and flying through the Ed Sullivan Theater. However, Simmons was often on a mission. In the clip below from 2007, Simmons appeared on Late Show with David Letterman to talk about his initiative to get physical education and recess back in schools."I believe that exercise can be a multiple measure in the school system, and our kids will not have diabetes, obesity, depression and all the things our kids are going through now," said Simmons. He later channeled his inner Norma Rae and stood on his chair and led the audience in the chant, "P.E. in schools! That's the golden rule!" https://youtu.be/EkXlesq5RRQ?si=lA28sOgyI3ZZ19Ma For anyone who grew up with Westheimer and Simmons as major pop culture figures, their deaths ring as a true loss, for they both represented a singular sweetness that is seemingly in short supply today. Perhaps, if more health influencers followed their lead, maybe the world would be a brighter place, or at the very least, sparkle like one of Simmons' tank tops.

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