Ah, the 80s. Can any other decade be more vibrant and entertaining as the neon-colored and pop-filled era of the 1980s? A major part of that time was the fitness craze. When you think about the decade, do you picture spandex and muscles? Shwarzenneger and Olivia Newton-John? And how about our dear old friend Richard Simmons?
Let’s go back in time and look at the most popular 80s fitness stars, what they did, and what they’re up to now. And you might as well put on the track “Hit Me With Your Best Shot” by Pat Benatar, you know if you want the full experience.
I don’t think it’s even possible to forget about someone like Richard Simmons. With a personality and style like his, he will forever be ingrained in our memories in the category of 80s fitness stars. Simmons was an icon of the neon spandex fitness video era, sporting his sparkly outfits and afro.
The eccentric fitness instructor rose to fame when he documented his own successful weight-loss journey and went on to help others do the same in his own personal gym. Richard targeted his workout videos to people who loved retro music. His most popular video was called ‘Sweatin’ to the Oldies.’
Simmons retreated from the public eye after his stint in the 80s. He embraced his inner extrovert but didn’t rid of any of his sparkling outfits. Since 2014, Simmons was nowhere to be heard of or seen. He stopped showing up at public events and eventually began avoiding the public altogether.
Simmons was still the owner of “Slimmons Gym”, but it closed for good in 2016. Then in 2017, police reportedly visited his home for a “welfare check.” While rumors may have gone around that he passed away, they aren’t true. Our dear old fitness fella is alive and well.
The famous actress used to also make a name for herself in the fitness industry. When Jane Fonda released ‘The Jane Fonda Workout,’ she was already established as a household name for her acting work in movies like ‘Klute’ (1971) where she won the Oscar for her role.
But she was also making heads turn in her workout videos. ‘The Jane Fonda Workout’ became the highest selling home video, selling over one million copies. People were so eager to get their hands on the workout tape that they went out to buy VCRs. Her workout series included 23 videos sold a total of 17 million copies.
Jane Fonda took a long break from making exercise videos so that she could focus on her acting career as well as her private life. 15 years after her last workout program, in 2010, Fonda released two new videos, but this time on DVD.
With the new DVD format came a new target audience: older women. Fonda had retired from acting in the 1990s, but made a return in 2005’s ‘Monster-In-Law.’ If you’re a fan, you can see her in the recent Netflix original series called ‘Grace and Frankie’ with comedian Lily Tomlin.
Kathy Smith was a fitness star that didn’t have a side acting career. She took her passion for running and expanded it into a workout video empire. Since 1980, her workout videos on VHS tapes sold more than a million copies.
Part of her fitness empire was an exercise and nutrition program called ‘Project: You! Type2.’ The program was supported by the American Diabetes Association to help people suffering from Type 2 diabetes to improve their lifestyle within the confines of the disease.
Not many workout stars even came close to Kathy Smith’s success in the fitness industry. She was called the “titan of the workout industry” due to her achievements. Throughout her career, Smith made over $500 million from a combination of her fitness tapes, books, equipment, and clothing.
Talk about an empire! Her victory in the industry landed her in the Video Hall of Fame. She’s also the spokesperson for the International Council on Active Aging. It’s a position she received after her book, ‘Moving Through Menopause,’ gained critical acclaim.
When you get a one-name nickname, you know you made it big. Most people didn’t think about Fabio’s last name, which is Lanzoni. He became a world-famous model and his mononym, Fabio, was all people needed to hear or say.
His physique drove women crazy as he was all over the cover of magazines and romance novels. But when he was not involved in being the face of novels, Fabio was writing an exercise book and fitness video titled ‘Fabio Fitness.’
Thanks to romance novels, Fabio was at the top of his game. But he wanted more for himself. So we went the way many hopefuls do – to Hollywood. Fabio appeared in films and television shows throughout his career.
Fabio tended to play himself because it’s just too hard to separate a character from his long-haired persona. He even became the spokesperson for the commercial I Can’t Believe It’s Not Butter! He has a bunch of business ventures, including an attempt at fashion retail with Sam’s Club.
Denise Austin earned the title “America’s Fitness Sweetheart” with her captivating blue eyes and contagious smile. She also made a name for herself in fitness. After graduating from California State University, Austin began teaching fitness classes, making exercise tapes and writing books.
Her television program was called ‘Getting Fit with Denise Austin’ and it ran on ESPN2 and even still airs on ESPN Classic. She was also named to the President’s Council on Physical Fitness and Sports by George W. Bush.
Denise Austin is still a big part of the fitness world. She stated to SHAPE magazine, “I still have so much fun promoting fitness. It never goes ‘out of style’ or gets old!” Her ESPN show eventually moved over to Lifetime Television and renamed to ‘Fit and Lite.’
The show was later canceled in 2008, but she moved on to other passion projects. She made and released her most recent workout tape in 2014, which is called ‘Yoga Booty Lift.’
Did you know Cher’s full name is Cherilyn Sarkisian? I didn’t either. And whether or not you’re a fan of hers (for the record, I’m not), we can’t debate the fact that she has become a real star and is easily recognizable by pretty much everyone on this planet.
Cher succeeded in captivating the public with not only her singing and acting but also her interest in fitness. Cher was the essence of an 80s star. Her popular fitness book, ‘Forever Fit: The Lifetime Plan for Health, Fitness, and Beauty’ was released in 1991. The following year, she released two workout videos – ‘CherFitness: A New Attitude’ and ‘CherFitness: Body Confidence.’
The 73-year-old has never really left the spotlight; she revels in it. While it doesn’t look like she’s going to be releasing an exercise video anytime soon, she does still maintain a healthy figure. Cher’s fans were pleasantly surprised at the 2017 Billboard Music Awards.
She made the first award show performance in over 15 years. She sang ‘Believe’ and ‘If I Could Turn Back Time.’ Cher then announced, “I can do a five-minute plank, ok?” in which she proved to the crowd that she’s still got it. But, you know, whatever.
Jake Steinfeld launched a spectacular career as a fitness guru by using a brilliant marketing campaign. His company, Body By Jake, pushed him all the way up to the top of the fitness industry, becoming a fitness icon on the way.
Steinfeld gets credit for popularizing the personal fitness training industry. He started a whole franchise by owning his own fitness lifestyle network, the 24-hour FitTv. It was very successful, and he was able to sell it to News Corp for a pretty penny. He then started ExerciseTV, an on-demand fitness television network. It looks like he knew what he was doing.
Jake Steinfeld was a true businessman, having turned his already successful training business into a massive company called Body By Jake Global. Jake was quite the entrepreneur for most of his life. In addition to his fitness networks, he also started a weight loss program called FitOrbit.
Then in 2001, Jake founded the first professional outdoor lacrosse league and called it Major League Lacrosse. Steinfeld was also one of 22 Americans chosen to be an Olympic torchbearer in the 2012 Olympic Games in London. He now hosts his own podcast called Team Up.
Do you remember Heather Locklear in the 80s? See her next…
In the 80s, Heather Locklear was one of the more popular and well-liked actresses on TV. Whether you remember her as Sammy Jo Carrington in ‘Dynasty’ or Stacy Sheridan in ‘T.J. Hooker,’ Locklear always turned heads and made it fun to watch her.
She had the look and physique that made women want to be her, and men want to be with her. Her workout videos called ‘Personal Training Sessions’ had people really eager to look as good as she did in a spandex leotard.
Celebrity trainer Garrett Warren of the Woodland Hills Athletic Club let us in on the secret to Locklear’s sustained success. He said, “Heather is one of the nicest people I’ve ever met, but also one of the most professional. She was always on-time, incredibly committed, and very driven when it came to her workouts.”
At the age of 57, Locklear still looks great and is still kickin’ it. She isn’t in the fitness industry any longer but still has her moments on the TV screen. Her last project was the series ‘Too Close to Home’ in which she starred as First Lady Katelynn Christian.
Only Olivia Newton-John can rock a mullet hairstyle and look that good. And regardless of all the other things she may have done in her career, Olivia Newton-John will always be remembered as Sandy in ‘Grease.’ Black leotard and all.
Newton-John was also known for her successful studio album, ‘Physical.’ The track spent ten weeks on the Billboard Hot 100, and it was her video clip that put her in the fitness category. On top of the suggestive lyrics, she added an aerobics themed video where she pranced around in her tight-fitting and bright-colored exercise attire.
It’s been a long time since Olivia Newton-John appeared in her 80s leotards, so long that she probably forgot about it herself. But the actress and singer still continue to tour and make music. Her most recent album was a Christmas album with Australian pop singer John Farnham called ‘Friends for Christmas.’
The album actually peaked at No. 1 in Australia. Then in 2015, she was a guest judge on both ‘RuPaul’s Drag Race’ and ‘Dancing with the Stars.’ And if you were recently in Las Vegas, you may have even seen her at The Flamingo Hotel.
When Jamie Lee Curtis showed up in ‘Perfect,’ the 1985 film starring John Travolta, she was already a huge movie star from her role in John Carpenter’s ‘Halloween.’ The movie ‘Perfect’ was about the rise of Los Angeles health clubs in the 70s.
It was based on a series of articles in Rolling Stone magazine. The film didn’t so well at the Box Office, but it entered Curtis into the aerobic culture. The athletic community was also grateful for the press it got them.
Thanks to her role in ‘Halloween’ as Laurie Strode, Curtis became known as the “Scream Queen.” She also starred in ‘Prom Night,’ ‘Terror Train,’ and ‘Roadgames.’ Jamie was focusing on her acting career.
She has continued to act in films and television. In 2015 and 2016, she appeared in a series called ‘Scream Queens.’ But it looks like her exercise-related films are in the past. For now, we have to settle for more horror films.
Speaking of Jamie Lee Curtis and her appearance in ‘Perfect,’ it would be a shame not to include her on-screen partner. John Travolta played the Rolling Stone reporter that meets the fitness instructor (Curtis). And you can just predict what happens.
He joined the club and following some aerobics moves involving crotch thrusts; he naturally fell for her. If you ever saw the movie, you might remember from the wink he threw her way as he participated in her class.
‘Perfect’ happened to occur at an imperfect time in Travolta’s life. After a decade of insane success, he started to find himself taking disappointing projects, including ‘Perfect.’ But the always-charming actor managed to dig himself out of his rut with the popular movie ‘Look Who’s Talking.’
That movie launched him into an ever more successful decade than that of the 70s. And then add ‘Pulp Fiction’ and his role as Vincent Vega to the mix, and you got all the young moviegoers on your side too.
Tony Little was full of confidence, muscles, and talent. Just being able to rock that a ponytail alone says he means serious business. Little referred to himself as “America’s Personal Trainer.” And when you lead to $4 billion in sales of fitness products, you can call yourself whatever you want rock whatever hairstyle you wish.
Little began making workout videos when he was recovering from a car accident. Most of his products were sold on the home shopping television networks like HSN and QVC. He is known for his product the Gazelle, which is an elliptical.
Tony Little had spoken about how deeply affected he was by his father, leaving him and his mother when he was a child. But he was able to rise above it all and become the success that he is today. It’s because of his cartoonish smile, ponytail, and workout infomercials, however, that Little has always been the target of parody.
But he’s a good sport, and fortunately, he’s able to laugh at himself and even pokes fun at others in the industry like Fabio and Richard Simmons. His last official TV appearance was in 2006 in a series called ‘Celebrity Paranormal Project.’
North of the border was where Cynthia Kereluk began creating her own fanbase as the exercise guru of Canada. Kereluk was a popular figure, even having won Miss Canada in 1984 and competed in Miss Universe the same year.
Between 1985 and 2000, Kereluk hosted an exercise show called ‘Everyday Workout.’ It aired in Canada (on WTN) and the United States (on Lifetime) which only amplified her success and gave her a larger and multinational audience.
Beyond aerobics, Cynthia Kereluk didn’t have much of a career. She was able to land a few small parts in B-rated movies like ‘Overnight,’ ‘Mark of Cain,’ and ‘The Pink Chiquitas,’ but her acting career never launched like she may have wanted it to.
She was, however, able to live off of the success of her three-decade running show for a while. Kereluk later found another way to get her blood pumping, and it wasn’t by means of aerobics. She married Paul Rodgers, the singer of Bad Company, in 2007 at a surprise ceremony in British Columbia.
Raquel Welch made a name for herself as one of the most desirable women in the world. Aside from her acting career, she wrote a book titled ‘Raquel: The Raquel Welch Total Beauty and Fitness Program.’ It gave readers tips and instructions on aerobic and yoga exercises as well as lifestyle.
She also produced a bunch of fitness and yoga videos based on her book, and it was directed by Andre Weinfeld. Racquel spent most of her career focusing on acting and managed to get herself some of the biggest roles in Hollywood, including ‘The Three Musketeers,’ ‘Right to Die’ and ‘Legally Blonde.’
Now at the age of 78, Raquel is still acting, and she has become even more of a seasoned actress. Gone are the days of speaking three lines and wearing bikinis like in the movie ‘One Million Years B.C.’ Raquel was on her way to becoming a true movie star.
She won a Golden Globe for Best Actress in ‘The Three Musketeers.’ Then 13 years later, she received a Golden Globe nomination for ‘Right To Die.’ She was last acting in a TV series called ‘Date My Dad’ where she played the character, Rosa.
Suzanne Somers was the spokesperson for the popular Thighmaster, and by the time that happened, she had already established herself on the silver screen in her famous TV roles. She starred on ABC’s ‘Three’s Company’ as Chrissy Snow for the show’s the first five seasons.
According to Complex.com, Somers was described as being “largely responsible for the invention of the infomercial … we would never have had the joys of ShamWow, Shake Weight, and Miss Cleo’s Psychic Friend’s Network if she hadn’t blazed that trail.” So thanks, Suzanne, watching TV at 3 a.m. will never be the same after you.
Suzanne Somers is recognized for her roles on ‘Three’s Company’ as well as ‘Step by Step,’ but she was never truly defined by one job or one industry. Beyond her career in acting, she’s also an author, singer, businesswoman, and spokesperson.
In 2005, she made her Broadway debut in 2005 in ‘The Blonde in the Thunderbird,’ which was a one-woman show. She’s been in the news often for a variety of controversial issues on medical treatments and such. But Suzanne and her Thighmaster will go down in history as one of the best contributions to the fitness industry.
Tamilee Webb became a popular name in the exercise industry due to her involvement with two major fitness series, ‘Buns of Steel’ and ‘Abs of Steel.’ It was her involvement in those Greg Smithey’s workout videos that put her right at the center of the 80s and early 90s workout craze.
The workout series was promoted heavily through infomercials, and their VHS reached over $10 million. Their success helped her secure a respectable position as a fitness expert for FitTV, which was the property of Discovery Communications.
Tamilee Webb lives and breathes fitness, and has no intention of giving up on her healthy lifestyle anytime soon. Not too long ago, Webb released ‘Buns of Steel 3’, ‘Abs of Steel 1,’ and ‘Arms and Abs of Steel’ as a collection on DVD.
Webb is more than just a pretty face and fit body, she’s also quite brilliant. She has a master’s degree in exercise science and runs her own company as the CEO of Webb International. She clearly has a lot to offer people who care about their health.
How can we list all the 80s fitness stars without mentioning Mr. Muscles himself? Arnold Schwarzenegger ended his reign as governor of California in 2011. But before his stint in politics, he had an iconic position in Hollywood. And not only in major Hollywood movies but as a bodybuilder.
He was 20 when he won the Mr. Universe title, and he’s considered one of the greatest bodybuilders in the world, achieving the Mr. Olympia title seven times. Arnold still holds the record as the youngest Mr. Olympia ever, having won in 1970 at the age of 23. But he later retired from professional bodybuilding after the 1975 Mr. Olympia event, only to return once more in 1980 to take the crown one last time.
Arnold had his time as the greatest bodybuilder, and he wanted to achieve stardom beyond the gym. The start of his career wasn’t so easy in Hollywood due to his thick Austrian accent, but he persevered and became one of the biggest action stars of all time.
But after starring in the blockbuster ‘Terminator’ movies, he married Maria Shriver and took the road down politics. The Terminator turned into the Governator as he was California’s Governor from 2003 to 2011. But after his reign was up, Arnold returned to Hollywood. And he’s going to be in the next ‘Terminator’ movie.
Like Arnold, Lou Ferrigno was also a super bodybuilder before he headed to Hollywood. After graduating from high school, he was titled, Mr. America. And then four years later, he went on to win Mr. Universe. There was even one point where he trained with Arnold Schwarzenegger.
You can see what his attempt to defeat Arnold as Mr. Olympia was like in their documentary ‘Pumping Iron’ in 1977. The film gave Lou Ferrigno more fame than he never expected and led to a new life in Hollywood.
After the film ‘Pumping Iron’ came out, Ferrigno landed a major role as Bruce Banner in the TV series ‘The Incredible Hulk.’ You can imagine how perfect he was for the role with bulging muscles that look so fake but are actually very real.
In 2000, Lou appeared as a fictionalized version of himself on ‘The King of Queens.’ Kevin James’ character loved to tease him with Hulk-related jokes. Lou never fully left his bodybuilding past behind as he appeared on the cover of Flex magazine as recently as 2017.
The exercise movement of the 80s wouldn’t have been complete without the influence of Judi Sheppard Missett. Judi launched Jazzercise – one of the most successful fitness franchises of all time. She founded the company which eventually achieved 8,300 locations around the world.
Her company carried her fitness routines, which combined dance and resistance and strength training. Each one of her routines involved bouncing around to upbeat pop music for a full body workout. She initially trained all her franchisees remotely through her VHS tapes.
Judi Sheppard Missett is still a leading figure in the exercise world. She stands behind her Jazzercise routines and even updated her workout plans to evolve with the new fitness age. In a Huffington Post article, she said that because of her exercise routine, she feels like she’s still 30 years old.
Also, in the Huffington Post, Judi wrote about her relationship with fitness and how it impacted her career. She claimed that “I feel about 30. Then I look in the mirror, and I don’t see a 30-year-old. What I do see is someone who looks pretty good, is active and healthy, and has a serious spark to her.” Good for you, Judi!
You probably remember Tonya Harding and the headlines she caused. She was in Portland, Oregon and began skating at the early age of three. While her father taught her skills like hunting and car mechanics, she knew she wanted to skate.
It was in the 80s and 90s when Harding started turning heads by becoming one of the best skaters in the world. But after a disappointing 4th place finish at the 1992 Olympic Games, she tried for the gold in 1994. But an unfortunate scandal followed.
Leading up to the Olympics in 1994, Harding’s biggest competitor was Nancy Kerrigan, who was struck with a club to her knee. Rumors were going around that Harding was involved in the attack. And eventually, it was discovered that Harding’s ex-husband hired a man to attack Kerrigan.
Harding finished at 8th place in the 1994 Olympics. She later pled guilty to conspiring to hinder the prosecution. Then in the early 2000s, she started on a different path in boxing, where she managed to get three wins and three losses.
She might have been called the Ice Princess, but Nancy Kerrigan was far from royalty. Her father worked multiple jobs and very hard so that Nancy could pursue her dream of skating. Through his hard work and her determination, Nancy made a name for herself as one of the best skaters in the world (alongside Tonya Harding).
It was her performance at the Junior National Championships in 1987 that put her on the map. In 1989, she finished 4th at the senior National Championships. She won the bronze medal at the 1992 Winter Olympics, which brought her to the games in 1994 and the unfortunate occurrence.
Kerrigan would, unfortunately, get tangled up in the Tonya Harding fiasco. Nancy’s face was seen across the world when she was crying in pain, “Why, Why, Why?” She later recovered from her injuries and even took home the silver medal in the 1994 games.
After retiring from competitive skating, Kerrigan started to produce ice shows. She worked on ‘Champions on Ice,’ ‘Broadway on Ice,’ and the musical adaptation of ‘Footloose.’ She also competed on ‘Dancing with the Stars,’ but was out in the 7th week.
Chris Evert started playing tennis before she even started first grade. Her father used to be a tennis player and started coaching her when she was five years old. After winning the U-16 National Championship, Evert played in the US Open in 1971.
She lost in the semi-finals but went on to win 18 Grand Slam titles through the course of her career, starting a rivalry with Martina Navratilova. Chris holds the record for the most consecutive years with a Grand Slam title.
20 years after she entered her first Grand Slam tournament, Evert retired from professional tennis in 1989. She basically dominated the tennis world for two decades, winning 154 singles titles including the Grand Slams.
Chris also won 32 doubles titles. She married three times – each time to a different professional athlete. At the moment, Evert runs a tennis academy in Florida and works for the network ESPN as a Grand Slam broadcaster.