14 Fascinating Facts About The French Connection

Gene Hackman, William Friedkin, Roy Scheider, Eddie Egan, and Randy Jurgensen in The French Connection (1971).
Gene Hackman, William Friedkin, Roy Scheider, Eddie Egan, and Randy Jurgensen in The French Connection (1971).
Universal Home Entertainment

In 1970, producer Philip D’Antoni and director William Friedkin set out to make a film based on the true story of one of the biggest drug busts in America history. They battled through studio rejection, casting drama, and a book that Friedkin couldn’t even get through to produce what became one of the most iconic crime thrillers of all time.

The French Connection won five Academy Awards, including Best Pictures, after its 1971 release, and still stands as one of the greatest films of the 1970s because of its gritty visual style, powerhouse performances, and one of the greatest car chase sequences ever put on film. Here are 14 facts about the making of The French Connection, from its roots to its release.

1. The real detectives are in the movie.

The French Connection is an adaptation of Robin Moore’s book of the same name, which was itself the true story of one of the biggest drug busts in American history, led by NYPD detectives Eddie Egan and Sonny Grosso in the early 1960s. Egan and Grosso remained close to the story throughout its development, and when the time came to actually make the film, they were both part of the process. Director William Friedkin kept them on-set almost every day as technical advisors, and even cast them in the film. Egan, the basis for “Popeye” Doyle, plays Doyle and Russo’s supervisor, Walt Simonson, which meant he got a chance to play his own boss. Grosso, the basis for “Cloudy” Russo, plays Clyde Klein, one of the two federal agents assigned to assist the detectives on the case.

Though Friedkin later recalled that the detectives thought his filmed version of events was fairly accurate, the director also noted that the film is an “impression” of the real case. In reality, the drug bust at the heart of The French Connection took several months to develop, and never involved a high-speed chase or a shootout.

2. William Friedkin wasn’t a fan of the book.

Wiliam Friedkin with Linda Blair on the set of The Exorcist (1973)
Wiliam Friedkin directs Linda Blair on the set of The Exorcist (1973).
Alan Band/Keystone/Getty Images

Robin Moore’s book The French Connection eventually found its way into the hands of Philip D’Antoni, a producer who was then fresh off the success of his first feature film, Bullitt. D’Antoni was taken by the story of these two New York cops with very different personalities who’d managed to pull off an amazing drug bust, and wanted to find the right director to make the gritty kind of drama he imagined. For that, he turned to William Friedkin, who recalled D’Antoni was particularly interested in him because of his background as a documentary filmmaker. D’Antoni and Friedkin went to New York to meet Egan and Grosso, and Friedkin saw the potential for a great film in their story. What he didn’t see, though, was the appeal of Moore’s book, which he claimed years later that he never actually finished.

“I never read Robin Moore’s book," Friedkin said. "I tried to. I don’t know how many pages I got through, not many. I couldn’t read it, I couldn’t follow it.”

3. The French Connection was turned down by almost every studio.

In early 1969, D’Antoni managed to set up The French Connection at National General Pictures, seemingly cementing backing for the film. Within a few months, though, things fell apart after D’Antoni reportedly said the budget for the film would be $4.5 million, something National General tried to retract with a later statement. National General then dropped the film, leaving D’Antoni and eventually Friedkin on the hunt for another studio. It wasn’t easy.

"This film was turned down twice by literally every studio in town,” Friedkin recalled. “Then Dick Zanuck, who was running 20th Century Fox, said to me, 'Look, I've got a million and a half bucks tucked away in a drawer here. If you can do this picture for that, go ahead. I don't really know what the hell it is, but I have a hunch it's something.'"

So, Friedkin and D’Antoni made The French Connection at Fox for Richard D. Zanuck and David Brown. Ironically, by the time the film was released, internal stress about the studio’s trajectory meant that Zanuck and Brown had both been let go from the studio, and Brown later recalled that they could only see the film if they bought a ticket for it like everyone else.

4. William Friedkin participated in drug busts.

Though Friedkin wasn’t necessarily that interested in the narrative as laid out by Robin Moore’s book, he was very interested in the actual street-level day-to-day existence of a narcotics detective in New York City. Taken by Egan and Grosso, Friedkin wanted to get an up close view of how the two detectives worked, and arranged frequent ride-alongs with them for both himself and his eventual stars, Gene Hackman and Roy Scheider. As the director later recalled, these trips were often about much more than observing.

“In fact, the scene where they come in, bust up a bar and grab all the stuff, I saw that three, four nights a week,” Friedkin recalled. “Usually Eddie Egan, who was the character who Hackman played, he would give me his gun in a situation like that. He would say, 'Here, watch the back.' And I would be standing in the back with a .38 and he did that with Hackman and Scheider and they got to know what it was like to do a frisk properly. Gene and Roy improvised that scene from having seen what Eddie and Sonny [Grosso] did."

5. Gene Hackman was not the first choice for Popeye Doyle.

When it came time to cast the brash detective “Popeye” Doyle, D’Antoni and Brown were gravitating toward Gene Hackman, then best known for films like I Never Sang for My Father. Zanuck was interested, but Friedkin was not.

“I instantly thought it was a bad idea,” Friedkin recalled.

At Zanuck’s urging, Friedkin had lunch with Hackman, and while the actor recalled it being a nice time, Friedkin later said he almost “fell asleep” during their first meeting. The film’s police advisors, including Grosso, were also skeptical of Hackman, and Hackman himself later recalled that Egan had wanted Rod Taylor to play the character based on him, because he thought they looked alike.

Friedkin, meanwhile, had his own ideas about who should play Popeye. He wanted Jackie Gleason, but Gleason’s last film at Fox was a financial failure and the studio wasn’t interested. Then he considered columnist Jimmy Breslin, but Breslin refused to drive a car and, it soon became clear, wasn’t exactly a natural actor. Eventually, with no convincing backup actor “in the bullpen,” D’Antoni issued an ultimatum to his director: Cast Hackman, or risk losing the production window on The French Connection.

“I said ‘Phil, you wanna do this with Hackman, I don’t believe in it, but I’ll do it with you,’” Friedkin recalled. “’We’ll give it our best shot.’”

Hackman won the 1972 Academy Award for Best Actor for his performance as Popeye Doyle.

6. Fernando Rey was cast because of a mixup.

To cast much of The French Connection, Friedkin came to rely on a “character around New York” named Robert Weiner. It was Weiner who initially brought Roy Scheider, who was cast without even auditioning, to Friedkin’s attention.

When it came to time to cast someone to play the French drug kingpin Alain Charnier, Friedkin went to Weiner and said “let’s get that French guy that was in Belle de Jour. What the hell’s his name?”

Weiner called Friedkin back and told him the actor he was thinking of was named Fernando Rey, and said Rey was available. Friedkin signed Rey, sight unseen, then went to pick him up at the airport when he arrived in New York. When the two men finally met face-to-face, Friedkin realized that, while he did recognize Rey, he was not the actor he’d been thinking of. Friedkin had really wanted Francisco Rabal. Instead, he was faced with Rey, who wouldn’t shave his goatee and noted that, as a Spanish actor, his French was not especially good.

"Rabal, it turned out, was unavailable and did not speak one word of English. So we went with Gene Hackman, who I didn't want, in one lead, and Fernando Rey, who I didn't want, in the other," Friedkin later recalled.

7. William Friedkin tried to “induce” a documentary feel.

Because he was taken by the street-level feel of The French Connection’s story, Friedkin wanted to infuse a sense of “induced documentary” into his film by making it look as often as possible like the camera operators just happened to witness two cops working the streets of New York. This was achieved, in part, by searching for the most authentic locations possible, but it was also achieved by never choreographing the film’s shots.

“In order to do that, from time to time, I would not rehearse the actors and the camera crew together,” Friedkin recalled. “I rehearsed them separately.”

That meant that, while the camera operators often knew what would happen in any given scene, they didn’t know exactly how it would happen, leaving them to capture Hackman and Scheider’s performances on the fly.

8. The “Poughkeepsie” dialogue was a real interrogation technique.

In keeping with the film’s documentary feel, much of the dialogue in The French Connection turned out to be improvised based on the situations in each scene. Because Egan and Grosso were often on-set as technical advisors, they were able to frequently offer up real phrases and words they might have used in the same situations. According to Friedkin and Grosso, this included Popeye’s famous “Did you ever pick your feet in Poughkeepsie?” dialogue.

“Yeah, that was a thing Eddie used to do that would drive me crazy,” Grosso recalled, “and when Billy wanted to do it in the movie I prayed to God, tried to talk him out of it.”

According to Friedkin and Hackman, Egan devised the “pick your feet in Poughkeepsie” phrase as a deliberate non sequitir to throw off interrogation subjects while Grosso would ask more straightforward, legitimate questions.

“It means nothing,” Friedkin recalled.

9. Gene Hackman struggled with playing Popeye.

Though he’d been the producer’s choice for the role and was eager to get it right, Hackman found the time he spent on the set of The French Connection with Eddie Egan—the basis for Popeye Doyle—difficult, calling the veteran cop “insensitive.” Hackman’s discomfort with Egan’s own personality was compounded by the fact that he had to use a number of racial slurs, including the N-word, as part of his dialogue. Hackman expressed his concern about saying the words to Friedkin, who told him it was part of the movie and he had to say it.

“I just had to kind of suck it up and do the dialogue,” Hackman recalled.

According to Scheider, Hackman’s reservations also stemmed in part from his quest to make Popeye seem like a relatable character, when Friedkin saw him as a rough, brash cop who was willing to do whatever it took to solve the case.

“Gene kept trying to find a way to make the guy human ... and Billy kept saying ‘No, he’s a son of bitch. He’s no good, he’s a prick,'" Scheider said.

10. There was tension between Gene Hackman and William Friedkin.

Already saddled with a star he hadn’t wanted to cast in the first place, Friedkin became convinced that Hackman didn’t necessarily possess the savagery necessary to commit 100 percent to playing Popeye Doyle. He decided that, as a director, the best thing he could do would be to push Hackman to get him “crazy” on a daily basis.

“I decided to make myself his antagonist, and I had to light a fire under him every day,” Friedkin said.

This sense of antagonism came to a head while shooting the scene in which Doyle and Russo stand outside eating pizza in the cold while surveilling Charnier, who’s eating in a nice French restaurant. Friedkin wanted to shoot a close-up of Hackman’s hand as he rubbed them together, to indicate just how cold the two men were, and he demonstrated how he wanted Hackman to rub his hands. Hackman, displeased with Friedkin’s tone, decided to antagonize him right back and pretend that he didn’t understand exactly what Friedkin was looking for. The exchange got so heated that Hackman finally demanded that Friedkin step in front of the camera and demonstrate exactly what he should be doing with his hands. Friedkin did, and when they were done with the close-up, Hackman was done with work.

“And he walked off the set for the rest of the day,” Friedkin recalled.

11. The French Connection’s famous car chase was shot without permits.

The French Connection is perhaps best remembered today for its iconic chase sequence, in which Popeye Doyle commandeers a car to pursue Nicoli, Charnier’s chief enforcer, who’s commandeered an L train overhead. It’s a thrilling sequence, and it began with a conversation between Friedkin and D’Antoni as they walked the streets of New York City, spitballing ideas. D’Antoni demanded that whatever chase they came up with be better than the already legendary chase his previous film, Bullitt, had featured, and together the two men hit upon the idea that it shouldn’t be two cars, but rather a car and a train.

To get permission to use the correct train for the sequence, Friedkin recalled giving a New York transit official “$40,000 and a one-way ticket to Jamaica,” because the official was certain he’d be fired for allowing them to shoot the sequence. The rest of the chase, including all the dynamic work with the car under the train tracks, was shot without permits. Friedkin used assistant directors, with the help of off-duty police officers, to clear out traffic on the blocks ahead of the shoot, but they were not always entirely successful. At least one of the crashes in the finished film was a real accident, not a planned stunt.

12. The car chase almost didn’t work.

The now-legendary chase scene in The French Connection was shot over the course of five weeks, with the shoot divided between time on the train and in the car and working around New York rush hour schedules. Even after all that work, though, Friedkin was concerned about the footage. After reviewing it, he realized it just wasn’t as “exciting” as he’d hoped it would be, and expressed that concern to stunt driver Bill Hickman.

As Friedkin later recalled at an Academy screening of the film, Hickman responded: “Put the car out there under the L tracks tomorrow morning at eight o’clock. You get in the car with me and I’ll show you some driving.”

The next day, Hickman—who was also a stunt driver in Bullitt—got in the car with Friedkin, who mounted one camera in the passenger seat and operated a second one himself from the backseat. According to the director, Hickman drove 26 blocks under the Stillwell Avenue L tracks at speeds of up to 90 mph, with only a police “gumball” light on top of the car to warn people what was coming. That gave Friedkin the extra speed and excitement he needed to complete the sequence.

13. The French Connection’s title was almost changed.

After all the casting drama and the cold shooting days and the high tension of the chase sequence, The French Connection finally entered post-production and was nearing completion when, according to D’Antoni, Fox’s promotional department sent him a memo declaring their intention to change the title. In the documentary The Poughkeepsie Shuffle, D’Antoni didn’t explain why the studio ultimately retracted that idea, but he did note that alternate titles for the film included Doyle and Popeye, both attempts to play up the tough cop at the center of the story.

14. William Friedkin doesn’t know what the ending means.

Gene Hackman and Roy Scheider in The French Connection (1971)
Gene Hackman and Roy Scheider in The French Connection (1971).
Universal Home Video

The French Connection’s ending is almost as famous as its chase scene, though not quite. The film seems to be ending happily for the cops, as they’re able to capture many of the people behind the heroin shipment, but Doyle isn’t satisfied with that. He pursues Charnier into the bowels of an abandoned building, determined to catch him, and is so jumpy that he very nearly fires on Russo when he sees him. Then, upon a seeing a shadowy figure in the distance, Popeye fires several times, only to discover the man was not Charnier, but one of the two federal agents helping them with the case. Unfazed and still determined, Popeye heads off into the darkness, still in pursuit, and we hear a single gunshot ring out. The title cards at the end of the film tell us that Popeye didn’t actually catch Charnier, so who was he shooting at? According to Friedkin, it’s a deliberately ambiguous moment to leave audiences wondering.

“People have asked me through the years what [that gunshot] meant. It doesn’t mean anything ... although it might,” the director said. “It might mean that this guy is so over the top at that point that he’s shooting at shadows.”

Additional Sources:
The Poughkeepsie Shuffle: Tracing The French Connection (2000)

10 Wireless Chargers Designed to Make Life Easier

La Lucia/Moshi
La Lucia/Moshi

While our smart devices and gadgets are necessary in our everyday life, the worst part is the clumsy collection of cords and chargers that go along with them. Thankfully, there are more streamlined ways to keep your phone, AirPods, Apple Watch, and other electronics powered-up. Check out these 10 wireless chargers that are designed to make your life convenient and connected.

1. Otto Q Wireless Fast Charging Pad; $40

Otto Q Wireless Fast Charging Pad
Moshi

Touted as one of the world's fastest chargers, this wireless model from Moshi is ideal for anyone looking to power-up their phone or AirPods in a hurry. It sports a soft, cushioned design and features a proprietary Q-coil module that allows it to charge through a case as thick as 5mm.

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2. Gotek Wireless Charging Music Station; $57

Gotek Wireless Charging Music Station
Rego Tech

Consolidate your bedside table with this clock, Bluetooth 5.0 speaker, and wireless charger, all in one. It comes with a built-in radio and glossy LED display with three levels of brightness to suit your style.

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3. BentoStack PowerHub 5000; $100 (37 percent off)

BentoStack PowerHub 5000
Function101

This compact Apple accessory organizer will wirelessly charge, port, and store your device accessories in one compact hub. It stacks to look neat and keep you from losing another small piece of equipment.

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4. Porto Q 5K Portable Battery with Built-in Wireless Charger; $85

Porto Q 5K Portable Battery with Built-in Wireless Charger
Moshi

This wireless charger doubles as a portable battery, so when your charge dies, the backup battery will double your device’s life. Your friends will love being able to borrow a charge, too, with the easy, non-slip hook-up.

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5. 4-in-1 Versatile Wireless Charger; $41 (31 percent off)

4-in-1 Versatile Wireless Charger
La Lucia

Put all of those tangled cords to rest with this single, temperature-controlled charging stand that can work on four devices at once. It even has a built-in safeguard to protect against overcharging.

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6. GRAVITIS™ Wireless Car Charger; $20 (31 percent off)

GRAVITIS™ Wireless Car Charger
Origaudio

If you need to charge your phone while also using it as a GPS, this wireless device hooks right into the car’s air vent for safe visibility. Your device will be fully charged within two to three hours, making it perfect for road trips.

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7. Futura X Wireless 15W Fast Charging Pad; $35 (30 percent off)

Futura X Wireless 15W Fast Charging Pad
Bezalel

This incredibly thin, tiny charger is designed for anyone looking to declutter their desk or nightstand. Using a USB-C cord for a power source, this wireless charger features a built-in cooling system and is simple to set up—once plugged in, you just have to rest your phone on top to get it working.

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8. Apple Watch Wireless Charger Keychain; $20 (59 percent off)

Apple Watch Wireless Charger Keychain
Go Gadgets

This Apple Watch charger is all about convenience on the go. Simply attach the charger to your keys or backpack and wrap your Apple Watch around its magnetic center ring. The whole thing is small enough to be easily carried with you wherever you're traveling, whether you're commuting or out on a day trip.

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9. Wireless Charger with 30W Power Delivery & 18W Fast Charger Ports; $55 (38 percent off)

Wireless Charger from TechSmarter
TechSmarter

Fuel up to three devices at once, including a laptop, with this single unit. It can wirelessly charge or hook up to USB and USB-C to consolidate your charging station.

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10. FurniQi Bamboo Wireless Charging Side Table; $150 (24 percent off)

FurniQi Bamboo Wireless Charging Side Table
FoneSalesman

This bamboo table is actually a wireless charger—all you have to do is set your device down on the designated charging spot and you're good to go. Easy to construct and completely discreet, this is a novel way to charge your device while entertaining guests or just enjoying your morning coffee.

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This article contains affiliate links to products selected by our editors. Mental Floss may receive a commission for purchases made through these links. If you haven't received your voucher or have a question about your order, contact the Mental Floss shop here.

12 Facts About Richard Simmons

Getty
Getty

Richard Simmons was everywhere during the 1980s and 1990s. From talk show appearances to Sweatin' to the Oldies video tapes, Simmons was the world's most memorable exercise advocate ... until he dropped out of sight.

In 2017, Simmons became the subject of the Missing Richard Simmons podcast, which took the central conceit of Serial and dropped it into a group fitness class. The podcast recounted filmmaker Dan Taberski’s attempts to coerce Simmons out of an apparently self-imposed three-year exile, but still left plenty of Simmons lore to pore over. Check out 12 things that may help you better understand the man behind the sequined tank tops, who was born on July 12, 1948.

1. Richard Simmons was almost Father Simmons.

Born in 1948, Simmons was raised in a very religious household in the French Quarter of New Orleans. After graduating from high school, he entered a Dominican seminary in Iowa and stayed for nearly two years before leaving. “It just wasn’t for me,” he said, citing his 240-pound frame that had been engorged on food addiction from an early age and his “loud” persona as being less than fitting for the job. Simmons also tried getting into medicine but found that “dead bodies [and] blood” were unnerving. He also had stints as a cosmetics executive and fashion illustrator before finding his niche in the fitness industry, opening the Anatomy Asylum exercise studio in 1975.

2. An anonymous note led to Richard Simmons's body transformation.

A photo of Richard Simmons
Getty Images

According to a 1981 feature in The New York Times, Simmons was working as a “fat model” in Europe in 1968 when he found a handwritten note stuck to his car. “Fat people die young,” the paper read. “Please don’t die. Anonymous.” Rattled by the message, the then-268-pound Simmons developed an eating disorder, surviving on water and lettuce for more than two months. Eventually, he recovered and developed a new philosophy: "Love yourself, move your body and watch your portions."

3. Richard Simmons appeared in two Federico Fellini movies.

Before Simmons slimmed down, he was enjoying the cuisine of Florence, Italy, where he was studying art in the late 1960s. While there, Simmons nabbed parts in two movies by acclaimed Italian filmmaker Federico Fellini: Satyricon and The Clowns. The footage is apparently the only existing evidence of his former frame: Simmons once said he “burned” all other photos prior to his weight loss.

4. Richard Simmons revolutionized the '80s fitness tape craze.

No video store in the 1980s was complete without a section devoted to fitness. Industry stars like Jake Steinfeld and Tony Little shared shelf space with tapes from Jane Fonda and Arnold Schwarzenegger. In almost all of these releases, perfectly-proportioned motivators and models led viewers through rigorous workout routines. When Simmons started his Sweatin’ to the Oldies series in 1988, he elected to populate his stage with regular people who were still struggling with weight loss. Consumers appreciated that Simmons wasn’t holding them up to a fitness magazine ideal, and the Sweatin’ series went on to sell 25 million copies.

5. Richard Simmons has been known to confront overeaters.

Early in his mission to eliminate excess adipose tissue, Simmons admitted to confronting total strangers over some of their dietary choices. “I’ll see an overweight woman eating a butterscotch sundae,” he told People in 1981, “and I’ll sit at her table and say, ‘What is this?’” When he operated a trendy Los Angeles eatery he called Ruffage in 1975, he’d also sit down with his customers and tell them if they needed to lose weight.

6. Richard Simmons once replaced Alex Trebek.

In 1987, syndicated TV distributor Lorimar attempted to capitalize on the home-shopping craze with ValueTelevision, a one-hour show where viewers could place orders via the telephone for featured products. The series was co-hosted by Jeopardy! star Alex Trebek. When the ratings were less than Lorimar anticipated, they fired Trebek and replaced him with Simmons. Nothing seemed to work, and the show was canceled in June.

7. Richard Simmons used to tour shopping malls.

Beginning in 1979, Simmons appeared on the ABC soap opera General Hospital as a fitness instructor. With the cast, he began making personal appearances at shopping malls: Simmons was so impressed by the number of people he could reach this way that he continued even after leaving the show in the early 1980s. “I travel almost 300 days a year,” he said in 1991. “I do mostly shopping malls, because everyone will come to a shopping mall, no matter what they weigh, no matter their economic structure, no matter what they drive. The malls are the meeting places of America. And so that's where I go."

8. Richard Simmons doesn't like sarcasm.

A photo of Richard Simmons
Getty Images

In 2004, Simmons was at Phoenix’s Sky Harbor Airport when a fellow passenger made a caustic remark about his Sweatin’ to the Oldies series of tapes. According to police, the man spotted Simmons and shouted, “Hey, everybody, it’s Richard Simmons. Let’s drop our bags and rock to the ‘50s.” The heckling was unappreciated by Simmons, who reportedly walked over and slapped the man across the face. According to the Bangor Daily News, police cited him with misdemeanor assault. The case was later settled and dropped.

9. David Letterman gave Richard Simmons an asthma attack.

Simmons was a frequent guest on David Letterman’s late-night talk shows, with Letterman often playing the straight man to the hyper antics of Simmons. In 2000, Simmons took a break from the appearances after Letterman playfully sprayed him with a fire extinguisher, prompting the asthmatic Simmons to have so much trouble breathing that paramedics were called. The normally affable Simmons was so upset by the incident that he refused to appear on the show for six years.

10. Richard Simmons doesn't like restaurants.

Speaking with the Denver Post in 2008, Simmons said that he very rarely visits restaurants owing to the fact that people can’t stop craning their necks to see what the diet guru has ordered. To maintain some semblance of privacy, Simmons typically gets room service while traveling. He also avoids grocery stores, citing concerns that people tend to call him over and ask him to read the ingredients label to see if it’s a healthy option.

11. Richard Simmons called his dogs on the phone.

A photo of Richard Simmons
Getty Images

Describing himself as a “loner” who doesn’t have many friends, Simmons once revealed a strong emotional bond with his three Dalmatians he named after characters in Gone with the Wind. When traveling, Simmons said he would call his house and sing to them over the telephone.

12. Richard Simmons foreshadowed his own exit in 1981.

As his fame and success grew, Simmons became a fixture on television and in print. Speaking to People for a profile in November 1981, the fitness expert said he received 25,000 to 30,000 letters every day and tried to meet as many people who requested his help as possible. “The day I don’t love any of this,” he said, “I’ll walk away.”

This story has been updated for 2020.