Tony Robbins claims he has helped millions of fans overcome some of life’s darkest difficulties. But leaked records reveal he has used his fame to berate victims of rape and violence, while female former staffers and followers have accused him of inappropriate sexual advances.
He claims to have revolutionized millions of lives with this philosophy, while building a multibillion-dollar business and working with celebrities from Donald Trump and Bill Clinton to Oprah and the Kardashians. Access to his most exclusive membership program has cost as much as $85,000 a year.
The events described by all five women took place in the 1990s and early 2000s, when Robbins’ fame was skyrocketing and before he married his second wife.
Interviews and records reveal how Robbins has created a highly sexualized environment in which both men and women have been told to touch themselves intimately and simulate orgasms — but he has repeatedly singled women out of the crowd for more personal attention.
The #MeToo movement has triggered reckonings inside a wide range of professions where men hold sway. Scandal after scandal has engulfed Hollywood giants, politicians, and CEOs, forcing a major change in the politics of sex and power. But the self-help industry, which generates billions of dollars every year, has faced little scrutiny.
Licensed professionals who treat mental health issues must undergo extensive training and follow strict ethical guidelines governing their relations with their clients. Self-help coaching requires no such qualifications or standards. But it creates a potent recipe for the abuse of power, setting its leading lights up as godlike figures with answers to life’s most painful questions, and placing the supplicants who seek their wisdom in their thrall.
But some long-term staffers, including Robbins’ former director of security Gary King, who spoke exclusively to BuzzFeed News, said they were deeply troubled by the psychological impact of his methods on vulnerable audience members.
Internal company emails reveal concerns about fans suffering mental breakdowns after days of emotional exhaustion as well as “sleep deprivation and dehydration.” In this intense atmosphere, some audience members became disoriented as the days went by, said Todd Spendley, a former logistics contractor for the organization. “We used to joke about it,” he said. “People started ‘popping like popcorn.’”
“We are alarmed that he’s using his platform to ridicule victims privately and publicly,” said Jodi Omear, an executive at RAINN, the Rape, Abuse & Incest National Network.
Like many famous men caught up in the #MeToo movement, Robbins has engaged powerful lawyers to try to shut down accusations: Lavely & Singer, a Hollywood megafirm with a client list including Bill Cosby, Charlie Sheen, and Scarlett Johansson.
The firm has been shielding Robbins from scrutiny since at least 2007, after a website published anonymous criticism of Robbins, including allegations that he had sexually harassed and manipulated women insiders. The site quickly disappeared, and website registration records show the domain was taken over by Lavely & Singer. The firm said the site was “not a source of reliable information,” and was taken down because it “was illegally using Mr. Robbins’ tradename.”
BuzzFeed News has corroborated key aspects of their stories, interviewed dozens of insiders, and obtained sworn witness statements from six former followers and staffers who raised serious concerns about the inner workings of Robbins’ world.
This is the story Tony Robbins never wanted told.
Robbins started touring around the country, amassing an army of volunteers who often worked 12- to 18-hour shifts to keep his shows running. “You don’t have any food, you’re literally in the room until Tony gives you permission to go for a break, you hardly get any sleep,” said Jon Richelieu-Booth, a former Robbins volunteer.
A friend told him he should try out a Robbins event nearby, and right away, King said he found the event’s “high energy” and “euphoria” addictive.
King said he soon found that a key part of his job involved responding to calls about participants who had threatened or attempted suicide or needed to be hospitalized after suffering mental breakdowns.
Robbins also described using “orgasm or masturbation” as “humor” to break a suicidal woman’s “pattern” at another event, the transcript shows. He also told a woman struggling with relationship issues to grab her breasts.
“Ultimate power corrupts,” King said. “I watched it like a movie unfolding.”
Robbins has indeed spoken publicly about the attention he has received from female fans. “They’d send me their panties and show up at events in limousines to get through security, or turn up at my house to convince me they had an offer I couldn’t refuse,” he told Playboy in 2013. “I was beyond tempted at times. There was no drought, for sure. I was like a kid in a candy store.”
Still, Marie could not tear herself away from Robbins’ world — a common theme among people who said they had experienced behavior that crossed a line but continued to work with him for years.
“He’s very connected, he’s very powerful, and he’s very wealthy and able to squash bugs,” Kay told BuzzFeed News. “And we’re the bugs.”
“He was on a pedestal as few celebrities in any field were at the time,” Blumberg told BuzzFeed News. “Everything about him — his looks, his demeanor, his money — was crafted to define himself as having extreme power.”
Marie said she was ostracized by many of the people she was close with in Robbins’ orbit. “I felt like I was being disfellowshipped from a religion,” she said. Gary King escorted her away.
But when his son, who had depression, killed himself, King’s concerns about the mental health of Robbins’ more vulnerable followers grew more acute.
In 2014, Robbins let a documentary filmmaker inside a Date With Destiny event to produce a film called I Am Not Your Guru.
When it debuted on Netflix in 2016, critics panned the film as “almost fawning” and “self-help snake oil.” The New York Times dismissed it as a “missed opportunity” to analyze how Robbins’ “peacocking dominance” inspired a “near-religious devotion” from his audience. “There are no in-depth interviews with employees or family members and no negative experiences,” the reviewer noted.
By then, the #MeToo movement was in full effect, and King started hearing from others who used to be in Robbins’ orbit.
A couple of months later, Robbins faced his first real backlash, after he was filmed criticizing the #MeToo movement.
Robbins also praised the casino magnate Steve Wynn, who had recently been accused of sexual harassment.
“In some ways, the dynamics of Robbins’ relationships with the women in these workshops is essentially the same as the dynamics of the abuse that may have brought them to him in the first place,” said Leigh Goodmark, a professor and director of the Gender Violence Clinic at the University of Maryland Carey School of Law.
The firm’s threats serve as “an example of using the law to silence people and keep conduct in the dark,” said Fatima Goss Graves, president of the National Women’s Law Center and cofounder of the Time’s Up Legal Defense Fund. “In the era of #MeToo, more and more people feel emboldened to speak out,” she said. Threats such as the ones Lavely & Singer directed to people in Tony Robbins’ orbit “are sending a reminder: ‘You are not as powerful as you think.’”
Opening art: Benjamin Lowy / Getty Images; illustrations by Akiko Stehrenberger for BuzzFeed News.
[Editor’s note: The maker of I Am Not Your Guru also directed a documentary based on reporting by Katie J.M. Baker, one of the reporters of this piece.]
RATING: #RobertReview (Tony Robbins; Self-Help Cults): 9.5 | 10
The #MeToo movement brought down Tony Robbins despite his high powered legal team who had tried to silence, cover up, and spin positive stories and explanation of Robbins’ sexual predator habits.
Robbins Research Institute should be listed in every Cult list to be warned about.
Like-comment-share this post if you support #MeToo movement in Self-Help Industry.
Published: 18th May 2019.
Updated: 20th May 2019.
By Jane Bradlye and Katie J.M. Baker
Posted on 17th May 2019.