A quick scan back at pretty much any TV lineup in the ‘80s soon reveals at least half of it filled with fitness shows and videos, from Jane Fonda to – well, Debbie Reynolds. Adorned in sweats and leg warmers, and never forget the spandex, in the ‘80s and early 80s a definite fitness craze was going on. It took up every possible place in pop culture; music videos, TV shows, clothing fashions and even film. Being cool meant being fit, and being fit meant you had a minimum of 10 videotapes in your home, at least one-hour exercise to follow in each. Show up to school without your high top sneakers? Forget about it. It’s hard to think about it in today’s culture, where the stress of being fit is much more subdued, and it’s much more fashionable to keep your training and diet methods a secret. But back in the 80s, the miraculous VCR meant you didn’t have to schlep all the way to the gym to vaguely exercise, and fertile ground for a huge entrepreneurship deal started. If we were to follow along with the tape, we were promised, we could easily look just like the stars who adorned its cover; and a few extremely savvy individuals built a whole empire based just on that promise alone
So what led to the extreme fad? A combination of various factors, probably: the industry of renting films was beginning to develop, and VCRs were becoming much more common. From the dubious exercise methods, especially those meant for women, of the ‘60s – those that included shaking machines and shaping belts – a more educated understanding of health emerged, along with support from the American government for creating health education. You could own it up to changes in fashion, as well; when stars like Tony Little and Arnold Schwarzenegger were making women swoon around the country, guys wanted a piece, and the skinny-hippie dude fashion of the ‘70s was slowly replaced with buff and muscular men, who became the prototype for the ideal men. And women were having an easier time exercising, as well: with fitness becoming not only important, but also visible, and appearances taking over inner peace-and-love (or army-and-guard) as most important value, women could now slim down and achieve their dream appearance in the comfort of their own home. There are problematic aspects to the blossoming of the beauty reverence culture, of course: but back in the 80s, it was much more about fashion and fun than it was about pressure and appearance. The fad saw a few truly unbelievable fitness gurus turn into megastars: so where are they today? Still working out? Still wearing mainly spandex? Here is a short list of the most memorable fitness kings and queens of the ‘80s – and an update on where they are now.
A true triple threat, Australia native Olivia Newton-John is an actress, dancer, fitness guru and singer (quadruple threat, make that). Some remember her for her legendary role of Sandy in Grease, but she is in fact responsible for several popular workout videos, not to mention the accompanying song “Let’s Get Physical” (and its unforgettable video), which sealed in the deal on fitness being not just a VCR fad, but an MTV one, too.
Olivia Newton-John now
Still very much a star, Olivia Newton-John is still a working actress, and although she is not stretching to the beat as she did in the 80s, she stars in shows and films constantly – and continues her singing career. She will forever be remembered as the iconic Sandy, yes, but just as well remembered as a sports and fitness icon. She’s focusing on her favorite “threat”, her singing, and is touring around the world still. She memorably revisited her hit song “Physical” in the TV series Glee.
So, Tonya Harding’s reputation lies perhaps not in her emergence from her blue-collar upbringing into Olympic fitness, nor her continued journey to find perfectionism in her preferred sport, figure-skating. Everyone knows the Harding – Kerrigan story. Harding, however, was indeed a star athlete and revered for her incredible discipline and precise technical skills. She famously trained for hours every day in order to achieve a better standing at figure skating and come to compete in the Winter Olympics.
Tonya Harding now
After the story came out that Nancy Kerrigan, a competitor figure skater, was brutally beaten in her knee by Harding’s ex-husband to prevent her from posing a threat to Harding, rumors brought her to temporary fame – well, in the spoken-about sense. After the couple was convicted of the case, she was banned from competing professionally or training ever again. She spiraled downwards personally and professionally. A documentary was made about her life, but she generally disappeared from the public’s eye after apologizing for her actions.
On the opposite of the controversy, figure skater Nancy Kerrigan, the subject of the attack, was already poised to take on a legendary role as a fitness and sports role model. She came from a family “of modest means”, her father working three jobs to pay for her ice-skating lessons. Despite being accosted and beaten by Tonya Harding’s ex-husband, she managed to recover, and in a fairytale ending, won the silver medal in the 1994 Winter Olympics.
Nancy Kerrigan now
Nancy Kerrigan became a crowd favorite after the ordeal. She officially retired from figure skating in 1995, got married, and had three kids: Matthew, Brian, and Nicole. Following her retirement, she became a professional ice skater, in that she did not compete, but performed in many ice shows. In 2017 she is set to star in the 24th season of dancing with the stars, while she continues her appearances in shows, such as Broadway On Ice.
Cathy Lee Crosby
If Nancy Kerrigan was born to a family of low means, Cathy Lee Crosby must be her exact opposite. Born to an actress mother and a screenwriter father, she initially was set on joining the family business, but then found her love for tennis – a love that was thankfully beset with a huge talent. She competed at Wimbledon, and even during her university years, continued with the sport. She later on developed a career in media, in film and especially on talk show television.
Cathy Lee Crosby now
Another athlete who did not go round the merriest path possible, her media and sports skills were forgotten when she entered an ugly fight over monetary agreements with former romantic partner Joe Theismann, a quarterback who played with the Washington Redskins. The case went on for years. She hosted a popular daytime TV talk show, but retired a few years back. She now runs CTC Entertainment studio, a production company she says is devoted to “create… one-of-a-kind, life-affirming projects”.
Fabio. Ah, Fabio! Fabio Lanzoni was a synonym for a gorgeous men for years. It’s actually just Fabio, to most. His workout video, Fabio Fitness, was released in the midst of his dazzling success as a model, who ended up being most famous for starring on the cover of perhaps thousands of romance novels. He was known to be the “dream man” for many women – and helped in reshaping (as it were) the idea of the ideal male body.
Fabio Lanzoni now
A cultural icon, Fabio took his romance novel stardom in stride, turning it into an empire in its own right. Firstly, he began writing the romance novels the covers of which he adorned, and later on into the 90s began receiving endorsements from companies like Versace and Dolce and Gabbana. He shared with his adoring fans his love of motorcycle racing and riding, and started a company, Healthy Planet Vitamins, which produces vitamins he claims are necessary for a healthy and fit body.
Charlene Prickett was all about those fitness videos. Hailing from Little Rock, Arkansas, she is responsible for a huge amount of workout videos: Charlene and the Bench Boys, Charlene A Major Step, and Curious Curves with Charlene PRickett, to name a few. Prickett was well-loved as she was genuine about her healthy and active lifestyle, and because her exercise routines were easy to follow. Bubbly and sweet, she found an adoring audience amongst older folks mainly, though many followed her videos.
Charlene Prickett now
Up until 2004, Prickett was still making workout videos. The latest one released was titled Charlene Prickett: Strong At Any Age. After that, she disappeared a bit from the public eye; her website is no longer active and her most recent internet presence is a blog post from 2012. Jim Parsons, who portrays Sheldon in the hit TV series The Big Bang Theory, has repeatedly admitted to being “a huge fan” of Prickett, “when I was younger, yes,” he had said, “but now, too.”
Perhaps the biggest name on the list, let us not forget that Austria born and raised super star and former Governator Arnold Schwarzenegger started his career strictly as an athlete – a bodybuilder who won world fame when he won the Mr. Europe pageant in 1966 (he was 19). He started publishing health and fitness magazines, Muscle & Fitness and Flex, and endorsed numerous fitness-related products. He continued to compete in bodybuilding contests throughout the 90s, and has won the Mr. Olympia contest seven times.
Arnold Schwarzenegger now
If you would have told his devoted fans that Schwarzenegger would not only be married into the Kennedy family, but also become the governor of California, they would have been, well, at the very least surprised. After retiring from bodybuilding and developing an incredibly successful film career, most notably starring in the film franchise The Terminator, he married and had kids and became the governor of California and had a child outside of his marriage and got divorced. What? It all seems totally ordinary to us.
Tony Little invented the ponytail. Okay, he didn’t invent it, but he certainly popularized it, that and leotard suits, in his success as a fitness guru. He became known as “America’s Personal Trainer”, and has sold more than $4 billion (!) only through fitness products, fitness videos, infomercials, and endorsements. Throughout the late ‘80s, he was the definitive fitness guru, and millions of copies of his tapes were sold. He also gave America a whole new standard of good teeth. Seriously. He had great teeth.
Tony Little now
After the fitness phase faded a bit, it seemed for a few years that Little’s difficult childhood, in which his father walked out on him and his mother, caught up with him, and he was not doing too well. This got in the way of any production, and his presence in the media ebbed. Certain other fitness gurus such as Fabio and even Richard Simmons were involved in feuds with him, what he called bullying, but he seemingly was able to overcome his difficulties later on.
Like it does with everything else, like milk and beer and culture, Canada had its own version of a fitness guru – Cynthia Kereluk. Kereluk had won the Miss Canada title in 1984 and competed in the Miss Universe contest, and her toned body and blonde hair made her an envy to many, and a role model to more. After her success in the pageants she began a career in television, and her incredibly popular fitness show, Everybody Workout, drew many who were wondering how to achieve a figure like hers.
Cynthia Kereluk now
Luckily enough, Cynthia Kereluk had plenty of other interests and skills besides beauty and fitness, so when the craze died out, she decided to start acting. After starring in various B-films like Mark of Cain and The Pink Chiquitas, she married English rockstar Paul Rogers in a private ceremony in British Columbia. She is not present in the public’s eye any longer, though she sometimes – rarely – makes cameo appearances on various TV shows and in films.
Chris Evert Lloyd
Chris Evert Lloyd is the daughter of Jimmy Lloyd, a tennis coach. She and her siblings all became tennis players, but Chris’ career made her famous after she ranked as a Women’s Tennis Association’s number one. She had a few major endorsement deals, most notably with Puritan Cosmetics, and was known for upholding her father’s strict Catholic faith and values in her public and personal life. She went on to win the Grand Slam and retired in 1989.
Chris Evert Lloyd now
Lloyd’s main preoccupation these days in a tennis school she is running in Florida. In a very publicized romance, she dated men’s tennis player Jimmy Connors, but they broke up. She married tennis player John Lloyd, who added the Lloyd to her name – which she kept, but not the husband, and in 1988, she became married again, this time to skier Andy Mill. They couple then – guess what? – split. She married again, but the couple broke up after 15 months. We’re happily she only kept one of the last names.
Tamilee Webb exploded (not literally) into stardom when she appeared on perhaps the most iconic of all ‘80s fitness shows, Buns of Steel and the accompanying Abs of Steel (you can’t have buns of steel but not abs of steel. That’d be weird.) She began starring in infomercials, through which she sold fitness merchandise, and became a huge success. It is estimated she has made at least $10 million from video sales, and became one of the first fitness gurus to become a fitness expert on the fitness channel FitTV.
Tamilee Webb now
Webb, once given the opportunity, proved she was made of much more than steely muscles and a pretty face. She has a master’s degree in exercise science, and she started her own company, Webb International, of which she is the CEO. She continues to advocate for fitness and healthy living, and released many more organs of steel videos (Abs of Steel 1, Buns of Steel 3, Arms & Abs of Steel, and others), and they are still sold with great popularity.
No fitness guru is a more famous fitness guru than Richard Simmons, then AND now. The quirky and outrageous Simmons, who built his career after he himself lost an immense amount of weight himself and set out to help others, is basically a synonym for the 80s fitness craze, in all its spandex glory. Simmons used his eccentric personality to get laughs – and his kind demeanor to reassure people they will always be able to succeed in their quest to reach their appearance, if only they insisted.
Richard Simmons now
Richard Simmons has pretty much stuck to his schtick throughout the years, even when changed and became, well, more subdued. He never seemed to care much for comments or criticism from critics or anyone else; insistent on sticking with his happy-go-lucky attitude, he’s probably the only fitness guru that wears more leg warmers now than he did in the ‘80s. He owns a studio in LA, and has endorsed many products over the years, building an empire bearing his name, and remains his quirky self.
Jane Fonda was the Kim Kardashian of the 80s, without the scandals. She was considered the ultimate beauty, and if men wanted to be buff and big – women wanted to be Jane Fonda. She smashed record after record in video sales and released 23 videos, the last of which came about when she was over 70 (in DVD form, this time). Fonda was at first hesitant to start recording exercise tapes, but her investment paid off; 17 million copies sold worldwide, she is still considered the queen of fitness.
Jane Fonda now
An award-winning actress and an avid activist for human rights, it seems Jane Fonda has it all. Her exercise tapes did nothing to tarnish her reputation as a successful and talented artist who played leads in films like They Shoot Horses, Don’t They? And Coming Home, for which she received an Academy Award. On top of that, her fitness empire gave her the monetary freedom to contribute to many charitable causes, including environmentalism and pacifism.
Catapulted into fame following her successful series of workout videos, Kathy Smith was hugely successful in the 80s. Her fitness programs were professional and she made sure to consult doctors and trainers – and even focused on creating a training and lifestyle program for people with diabetes. Following this, she kept her success into the ‘90s, stressing nutrition and fitness go hand in hand. Many turned to Smith for help, and she was happy to assist. Many credit her with popularizing the importance of a balanced nutrition along with fitness.
Kathy Smith now
Kathy Smith simply did not stop working, not even after the fad passed, not after the headbands have been washed and dried (and hidden from sight). She is still considered a titan of the industry, and for good cause, too: not only did she build a huge empire from her fitness and workout videos, she added apparel, books, and equipment to the mix, all bearing her name, and enjoys an estimated net worth of about $500 million.
Suzanne Somers made a career out of her thighs, which is a little strange, but it worked for her, so who are we to judge? She started off as the extremely toned and beautiful spokeswoman for the Thigh Master, and she actually had a lot to do with inventing the device and the infomercials, and became a fitness guru for it. Quickly after, she decided to break away and start acting. To this day people know her as the Thigh Master.
Suzanne Somers now
Known for her roles as Chrissy in Three’s Company and later as Carol Foster Lambert in Step by Step, a sort of 90s reboot of the Brady Bunch, Suzanne Somers is an incredibly successful business woman. She also sings and has authored several books, and though most remember her as ditzy Chrissy, those in the know understand she is extremely astute, a millionaire through her Thigh Master franchise, and vocal about issues such as health care – not just a pretty blonde.