Richard Simmons sues tabloids over sex change stories

LOS ANGELES, CA - JUNE 02: Richard Simmons attends the Elizabeth Glaser Pediatric AIDS Foundation's 24th Annual "A Time For Heroes" at Century Park on June 2, 2013 in Los Angeles, California. (Photo by Jason Kempin/Getty Images for EGPAF)

Richard Simmons has tried to avoid the limelight as much as possible in the past couple of years — but now he’s back in the spotlight, taking the tabloids to court.

Stepping out of self-imposed seclusion, Simmons is suing the National Enquirer and Radar Online for libel and invasion of privacy, claiming the outlets targeted him in a series of “egregious” and “hurtful” stories about his gender identity.

In the lawsuit filed in Los Angeles Superior Court on Monday, Simmons alleges that from June 2016 to March 2017, the publications acted with “calculated malice” by “running false and salacious stories claiming that Mr. Simmons is transitioning” into a woman.

American Media, Inc., which represents both the National Enquirer and Radar Online, posted a statement standing behind its reporting. “Our story was based on credible sources who were in Mr. Simmons’ inner circle,” the statement said. “The photos provided to The ENQUIRER are real – and speak for themselves.”

The lawsuit accuses a man named Mauro Oliveira of reaching out to entertainment outlets, including the National Enquirer and Radar Online, “offering (them) information on Simmons’s disappearance in exchange for a fee.” The court filing alleges that Oliveira “has blackmailed, extorted and stalked Simmons for several years with the intention of destroying (Simmons’) career and reputation.” The lawsuit does not explain the relationship between Simmons and Oliveira, or how they know know each other. Simmons’ manager did not respond to CNN’s calls for comment.

In the lawsuit, Simmons’ lawyers allege that Oliveira offered to take back his story, publicly, if he were paid an unknown sum of money from Simmons within ten days of their receipt of his email. Oliveira could not be reached for comment.

Images of Simmons wearing dresses and posing in lingerie, and a topless photo of Simmons with his chest censored with black bars, appeared in a June 20, 2016 edition of the National Enquirer, alongside an interview with an unnamed “insider” saying that Simmons “had a boob job, and his breasts are like he had been taking hormones to make them grow.” The tabloid claimed that Simmons had castration surgery and was “living as a gal named Fiona.”

In the lawsuit, Simmons says those statements were entirely false. According to Simmons’ lawyers, some of the photos used by the tabloids were taken in 2013, when Simmons “dressed in costume as a female, which he had done openly over the years consistent with his well-known and longstanding burlesque-style entertainment personna.”

“The National Enquirer and Radar Online used Mr. Simmons’ respite from the glare of public life to treat his persona as a defamation free-fire zone, acting as if they had a license to publish any story they wanted about Simmons,” the lawsuit reads.

But American Media, Inc., the parent company of both tabloid outlets, refuses to back down. “We stand by our reporting about Mr. Simmons, and intend to vigorously defend this lawsuit and win public vindication of our reports.”