Chris Nashawaty
January 14, 1994 AT 05:00 AM EST

It’s 40 degrees in midtown Manhattan on a winter afternoon, and Richard Simmons is wearing a floppy red tank top and just the cutest little pair of red-and-white candy-striped short shorts. But he doesn’t have to worry about warmth. Richard Simmons is warmth. You can tell because when he isn’t oozing positive, sweat-as-salvation energy to fans of his hit workout videos, he’s crying. As a matter of fact, both on camera and off, Simmons seems to cry a whole lot. Celebrating his 20th year in the fat-burning biz-at 25 he launched Ruffage and the Anatomy Asylum, a restaurant/exercise studio in Beverly Hills-Simmons is en route to an appearance on a Sally Jessy Raphael special (airing Jan. 19). Within minutes of meeting a perfect stranger, the first tears flow as he reads a letter from a girl, once suicidal and ashamed of her weight, who wrote to thank him for saving her life. All told, he cries about 10 times during the course of the day-perhaps burning off more body weight with his tears than most of us might shed in a week’s worth of sweatin’ to the oldies. In spite of his emotional gymnastics-or more likely, because of them- Simmons and his four best-selling Sweatin’ to the Oldies videos are more popular than ever, having sold more than 7 million tapes over the past seven years. This despite the arrival of exercise videos by everyone from Cindy Crawford to Estelle Getty. ”Once it was just me and Jane, and (the tapes) were $70 apiece, but now it’s a whole different world,” he says. ”Years ago, when a model or an actress wanted to make extra money she made a Breck commercial or did a Dove soap commercial. Now they do exercise videos.” But newcomers aren’t really much of a threat to a one-man industry like Simmons, who just signed a deal with GoodTimes Home Video to produce five new tapes and has expanded his video ventures with Deal-A-Meal, an elaborate weight-loss kit. For all his success, though, there are still some who seem to view Simmons as, well, pretty weird. Take David Letterman. ”Yeah, I do the Letterman show, and I go back to my dressing room and I cry,” Simmons confesses tearily. ”But I know he means well. Letterman adores me. If he doesn’t pick on you, then he doesn’t adore you. ”Of course, I’m going to be teased. Listen, I’m not your average 45-year- old man.” *

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