Boom Time

Richard Simmons wants to know what the reporter had for breakfast.

And he’s not happy about it.

“Excuse me for just a second,” the fitness guru says, weary that the guy on the other end of the phone has skipped the first meal of the day. “Dear heavenly father, we’re ruined today because Jason is not taking care of himself. I know it. I can feel it on the phone.

“I talk to thousands of overweight men and women each week,” he continues, “because I make about a 100 phone calls each day, and do you know that the majority of very overweight people do not eat breakfast? The body in the morning needs something to get it going.”

Today, that something is Simmons himself: The man is caffeine personified, a tornado of enthusiasm in striped shorts who’s more radiant than an acre of tanning beds.

His words sprint out of him like they’re running for their lives, his voice jumps up and down like a cartoon character’s and talking with the guy is enough to make heart rates quicken by proxy.

“It’s because I like me and I take care of me — that’s where the energy comes from,” Simmons explains.

He’ll need that energy when he hits town this weekend as part of the Boomers Show, a mammoth health and lifestyle expo for baby boomers where Simmons will lead exercise classes and enjoin the masses to put down those chicken wings and pick up some running shoes.

Simmons likely will meet his match in Vegas, a bastion of artery-choking buffets and 24-hour taverns where clean living is about as commonplace as snowfall.

“But that can change,” Simmons says. “That’s why this Boomers Show is so important. A baby boomer was born somewhere between 1946 and 1964 — I was born in ’48. There are 75 million of us on this planet right now, and we’re very powerful, but unfortunately, we’re not taking care of ourselves. We’re very heavily into work or retirement, we’re busy doing other things, and it’s not exercising and eating properly. All this Boomer Show is about is to educate the baby boomers to take better care of themselves.”

To this end, the Boomers Show will not only spotlight the benefits of staying fit in the face of advancing age, but also will feature experts and exhibitors in finance, travel, real estate, medicine and other fields. CVS, a sponsor of the event, will offer free health screenings and samples, software maker Electronic Arts will showcase video games aimed at the boomer market and Harperluxe, a division of publisher HarperCollins, will give away $25,000 in books.

“We’re answering the call to the questions that baby boomers have,” says Jon Bogart, producer of the expo. “We’re getting older, but we’re not aging the way that we’re expected to according to the actuary tables of the insurance companies. Before, it was hit the work force at 20, retire at 65 and die at 70. Now, 50 is the new 30. The baby boomer wants to feel better, to get more out of life, and we want to tell the baby boomer how to do it.”

As for Simmons, he’ll be there to provide plenty of pep talks — and a little comic relief, which he’s well aware of.

“I was the first clown out there to do this,” he says. “Fitness was very serious, but I changed all that. I’m a court jester, even though my message is really serious. I’ve always made it more palatable by making it fun. Fun, to me, is what it’s all about.”

Simmons’ breathless, people-friendly demeanor has a lot to do with his childhood, where he worked as a street vendor in his native New Orleans.

“I was born with parents who did not have a good deal of money, and so I had to sell pralines on the street corner since I was 8 years old to bring money back into the house,” Simmons explains. “There, I got to meet people from all over the world, and I was talking to them and becoming an adult at an early age. I could always make people laugh — whether they were laughing with me or at me, that doesn’t matter. And that made me feel good. I carried that through my schooling, through my careers, and then I said, ‘You know, it’s good to make people laugh, but it’s also good to make people feel good, and that’s what I’m going to do.’ “

Simmons opened his first gym 34 years ago, after shedding 137 pounds as an overweight child, and his vigor certainly hasn’t diminished with age.

If anything, Simmons seems more galvanized than ever, a thunderbolt of effusiveness who sounds as if he’s ready to physically pry any stragglers off the couch.

“People plan their vacation, they plan their money with retirement, but they don’t plan how they’re going to take their body in to all these next generations,” Simmons says. “They’re saying that we’re going to live longer. Why not have health on our side?”

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