2003-08-29 / Community

Richard Simmons Pays Local Visit

By Brian Magoolaghan
Richard Simmons Pays Local Visit By Brian Magoolaghan


Michael Hebrenko enters a room at the Brookhaven Rehabilitation and Health­care Center in Far Rockaway. Hebrenko, who was once confined to his bed, can now walk about 70 feet using a walker.  Richard Simmons and Michael Hebrenko embrace. They have been friendly since the late 80s.Michael Hebrenko enters a room at the Brookhaven Rehabilitation and Health­care Center in Far Rockaway. Hebrenko, who was once confined to his bed, can now walk about 70 feet using a walker. Richard Simmons and Michael Hebrenko embrace. They have been friendly since the late 80s.

One of the nation’s wackiest celebrities visited one of the world’s most obese men—and it happened in Far Rockaway last week.

Weight-loss guru Richard Simmons stopped by the Brookhaven Rehabilitation and Healthcare Center on Beach 17 Street to see Michael Hebranko, a friend, who once weighed almost 1,100 pounds. Hebranko, 50, made headlines years ago when a construction crew had to demolish part of his Brooklyn home and use a forklift to get him out, before taking him to the hospital.

With Simmons’ help, in the early 90s, Hebranko’s weight dropped to about 200 pounds. They made public appearances together—Hebranko, a success story, even made it in to the Guinness Book for record weight loss. The two men talked regularly, and would see each other when Simmons was in town. But then, Hebranko said, he began "eating on the sneak." He avoided Simmons and many others as he added hundreds of pounds back to his body, once gaining nearly 35 pounds in three days.

But Simmons’ visit was not about getting Hebranko on the scale, or promoting Deal-A-Meal or "Sweatin’ to the Oldies" videotapes. He was there to spend time with a friend, to see the center’s program for obese people and meet other patients.


From the moment Simmons burst through the front doors, wearing his familiar exercise clothes, Brookhaven residents knew he was there and seemed to enjoy his company. Simmons danced, sang and then sang some more.

"We never thought we’d get to meet him," said a smiling Dolores Rivera, a patient who has lost more than 100 pounds since coming to Brookhaven.

Simmons and patients gathered in another room where there were chairs and a colorful spread of fruit and vegetables was waiting.

"The first word I learned as a baby was not ma-ma or da-da, it was Boo-fey (sic)," Simmons said.


"Cauliflower makes me fart," he exclaimed as he grabbed a piece from the buffet. His signature silliness cracked up his audience.

Then Simmons and the group said a prayer together and talked about weight loss. He encouraged them to continue supporting one another and reminded them of the many obese Americans who will not have access to the kind of care they get at Brook­haven. He also told them to exercise and promised to send copies of his videos.

After about an hour Hebrenko, and his wife Madelaine, took Simmons up to his room for a few minutes of private time together.

Hebranko entered Brookhaven and started a 1,500 calorie-a-day diet in mid June (the average adult eats about double that). Over the summer he has lost about 60 pounds, and is down to about 600 pounds, but said he no longer has a numeric goal weight. What he wants, more than anything, is to be at the wedding of his son, Michael. "I missed his whole life," Helbranko said, "I’m not going to miss his wedding." The wedding date is November 26, 2004.


Richard Simmons sits on the lap of Dolores Rivera. Rivera presented Richard with an afghan, a gift for visiting the center.Richard Simmons sits on the lap of Dolores Rivera. Rivera presented Richard with an afghan, a gift for visiting the center.

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