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Tony Robbins: Practicing What He Preaches

Aired January 7, 2001 - 8:30 p.m. ET



BEVERLY SCHUCH, HOST (voice-over): No, this isn't another Tony Robbins infomercial; this is the real thing: The Results 2000 Seminar at the Reunion Arena in Dallas.

This crowd of people, 15,000-strong, have paid up to $300 each to get pumped up the world's most successful performance coach.




There's no maxing out in Dallas, ladies and gentlemen.


SCHUCH: The crowd is primed. What they want: a jolt, a jump- start for careers, relationships, even weight-loss plans.


ROBBINS: A big part of my life is really getting people to do the fundamental things that we know we should do but very few people actually follow through and make happen.


ROBBINS: What I am is a catalyst. I shake people's worlds, but for some people that may be a little bit threatening and for other people it's exciting, and other people, I'm just, you know, I'm probably somebody to -- to entertain them, you know.

SCHUCH: Tony Robbins is part rock star, part comedian, part revival preacher...


ROBBINS: And I am the voice.

AUDIENCE: (UNINTELLIGIBLE)... ROBBINS: I will lead, not follow.


SCHUCH: ... and part locker-room coach.


ROBBINS: Do you understand?



ROBBINS: I'm no more special than anybody else. I just -- I love life. I love people. And I'm incredibly passionate about finding those little distinctions that change the quality of people's lives.

I think most people know what to do, but the old adage, they don't do what they know. And the reason is not intellect, it's emotion.

SCHUCH: Tony Robbins' hypnotic message sells. Motivational tapes? He's moved 30 million. Bestselling books? He's got three and just signed a four-book deal with Simon & Schuster. More than a million people have attended his seminars; 10,000 have studied at his mastery university in Hawaii.

For the financially privileged and truly motivated, Robbins charges $15,000 for a peak performance week on his private island in Fiji. And a handful of top financial traders are so determined to have that Tony Robbins feeling 24-7 that they fork over a million dollars a year to be able to pick up the phone.

It's all made him very, very rich.

(on camera): You have how many homes? How many boats? Planes? Islands?

ROBBINS: Lots, lots.

SCHUCH (voice-over): More than just money, Tony Robbins' success has brought him influence in the highest spheres. Devotees range from Mikhail Gorbachev, Nelson Mandela, President Clinton, and Mother Teresa.

ROBBINS: And so I'm like, "Tell me, Mother Teresa." I said, you know: "Tell me something. What really gives you ecstasy in life, what gives you absolute ecstasy?" And she said, "What gives me ecstasy, Tony, is to see" -- and she has a little face -- and she said, "to see a person die with a smile on their face." And I thought, whoa, you know, not No. 1 on my list.

SCHUCH: Tony Robbins grew up in Azusa, California without much money. What he did have was a strong desire to help people. ROBBINS: Very early in my life I was the kind of person that was looking for a way to serve, and I -- but I felt like I could do more than just bake cookies, and you know, be a nice person.

SCHUCH: He's not only built that childhood yearning into an industry which spans the globe; at 40, he's living the life he sells and living it to the hilt.

ROBBINS: I like to be in the game of life. I don't like to sit on the sidelines and watch other people play. You know, to me that seems ridiculous.

SCHUCH: Tony Robbins is happy, as rich as a king, and has millions of devoted fans. So what drove a kid from a broken home with no college education so far? A closer look at the compelling of Tony Robbins next on PINNACLE.




ROBBINS: I'm this kid from Azusa who had no real role models. What set me apart, I think, honestly was I cared so much about people, and I had a vision for what I wanted to contribute. And honestly, I sculpted myself with will.

SCHUCH: Tony Robbins may not have had any role models, but he had several parental figures to choose from. His parents divorced when he was seven. His mother remarried twice. Tony bonded with his second stepfather, Jim Robbins, and took his surname.

But his relationship with his mom was fiery. And by his senior year in high school, he was living on his own.

(on camera): Did she throw you out? Did you storm out of the house in a fit on a Christmas Eve one year?

ROBBINS: Yes. Actually, she was throwing me out, and I was storming out, a combination of the two. But she kept my car that I earned at $40 a week as a janitor, and then I was taking buses to go there. And one night I remember vividly I came out -- I worked to about 2:00 in the morning. I was still in high school. And I would take the buses home. It was about 17 miles. You had to take two different bus routes to get there. And the buses didn't come. And there was a strike.

And so I ran -- no exaggeration -- the 17 miles, but I had never run 3 miles in my life. I did it literally with will, you know, I did it where I did what I call "incantations." I was outloud shouting these things, you know, simplistic things. You know, every step, I feel stronger and stronger. Every step...

SCHUCH (voice-over): That night in Azusa was the first step in the evolution of Tony Robbins. His ambitions began to crystallize when he heard the message of motivational speaker Jim Rohn.

ROBBINS: I took $35, and I was making $40 a week, and I went to a one evening seminar and listened to him, and it was all the books I had read, you know. And I was -- I was this young kid and people at the table were all in business suits. And I was like, he'd say something and I'd finish the sentence, you know, I was so inspired. And people were like "Shhh." But I was just so into it.

SCHUCH: Robbins got a job working for Jim Rohn. Selling Rohn's seminars was as natural to Tony as breathing and the cash rolled in, but not the happiness he had expected.

ROBBINS: I was maybe 18 years old at the time, and I'd say, let's go ride, you know, camels between the Pyramids, you know. Let's fly there. I'll pay for it. We'll do it. And people were like, "Oh, yes, easy for you."

So I got rid of all the money very quickly because I wanted the love. I didn't want the money. I wanted what I thought the money would provide, which was that love and that freedom.

SCHUCH: Robbins set about sabotaging everything he had created. Taking his usual approach, there were no half-measures. In pretty short order, he was broke, despairing and fat.

(on camera): But tell me, I mean, you're sitting in this, you know, this crummy apartment near Venice Beach, you know, eating bon- bons and watching soap operas all day.

ROBBINS: That's true. "General Hospital," I can tell you the whole story. I know Luke and Laura. I know when they got married. I was there.

SCHUCH: Then one day, one moment...

ROBBINS: I had one friend that came to see me I had not seen in years. I saw -- I didn't want to answer the door. I had bill collectors, you know, my phone was being shut off. That's why he came. And you know, I opened the door with a chain, he saw me, and I looked horrible. I didn't want to open the door. That was humiliating.

And I went for a run on the beach. I had not run in golly knows when. I was 38 pounds heavier than I am now, you know. And I put some music on, and I went on that beach and I ran as hard as I could until I thought I was going to spit blood. And then I sat down on the beach, and I wrote in this journal, and I wrote everything on one side of the page that I would no longer stand for in my life and I was dirt honest with myself.

Instead of saying, I'm a bit overweight -- I'm friggin' fat, you know, my butt is bigger than Chicago. This is -- I'm not going to put up with this one more minute, you know. And I looked at my relationships that were not happy. I looked at everything. And then I wrote everything I was committed to.

So now the standard was set and I had to figure out how to do it, and then I started looking for tools.

SCHUCH (voice-over): Figuring out how to do it involved some head-line grabbing tactics, from fire-walking to infomercials. How Tony Robbins carved a business empire out of his own despair when PINNACLE returns.




SCHUCH: In 1979, after that desperate day on Venice Beach, 19- year-old Tony Robbins became determined to shape his life. Fired up with the why, he began to search for the how.


ROBBINS: So we have the clapping, just get them going, clapping, moving, moving, moving, right.


SCHUCH: The search led him to neurolinguistic programming, or as Tony now puts it, "Training your mind to peak states."


UNIDENTIFIED MALE: That means going up to the catwalk, down, back and forth.


SCHUCH: Soon his seminars included fire walking, something he now dismisses as a gimmick. Back then, his head was as hot as his feet. Fired up with proselytizing zeal, he went after conflict.

ROBBINS: I started out attacking traditional psychiatrists. I got on the radio and it happened quite by accident. A guy attacked me, and I just went for his jugular, and the way I did it was: "How long have you been treating this person?" "Seven years." "Bring him on. I'll (UNINTELLIGIBLE) in 15 minutes."

And when you do that on the radio, it gets dramatic. So I take this woman he had been treating for seven years, and I wiped out her phobia in 15 minutes. It was a snake phobia.


ROBBINS: Can you go all the way back to the source of it and walk forward so I can see what that looks like when he's got the (UNINTELLIGIBLE). Don't look at it.


SCHUCH: Robbins seized another tactic for promotion in 1989 when infomercials were becoming a feature of late-night television. Yes, he says, they were cheesy, but people watched.

ROBBINS: I didn't want to do it, because it's like, you know, you look like a duck, you sound like a duck, you're a duck. And to this day, a lot of people still see me as, you know, big teeth, you know, hair glued in place, you know, kind of guy, or selling them something.

SCHUCH: He was selling them something, and from sports stars to presidents, they lined up to buy it.

ROBBINS: The strengths far outweighed the weaknesses, and it brought me, you know, the Quincy Jones's, the Andre Agassis, the president of the United States.

SCHUCH: Tony's career spun into high gear. The tapes sold in the hundreds of thousands. But the people who bought them wanted to hear the man in person, and Robbins began filling bigger venues.

At about this time, a crooked manager took advantage of his fast- moving company, embezzling three quarters of a million dollars. Robbins was advised to declare bankruptcy, but the man who taught leadership and determination would not admit defeat.

ROBBINS: It looked impossible, but I just -- I went out and did 275 days on the road. And in a year, I paid off all the debt.

SCHUCH: Nor would he back down when faced with a medical crisis. In 1994, a routine check-up showed a tumor in his pituitary gland.

ROBBINS: A particular doctor decided on his own to do some tests, because he noticed, you know, the sculpture of my face, the size of my hands and so forth, and thought maybe I had excess growth hormone. Well, no kidding.

And so he contacted me and told me that I had a tumor in my brain, he was sure of it -- he had no proof -- and that he wanted to do an operation. I was like: "Whoa, whoa. I came in. There was nothing wrong with me, and suddenly, you know, you want to cut out a part of my brain. This doesn't bode well."

But at that time, it gave me so much uncertainty. I mean, you know, you start looking at your life. He's saying your heart valves could get larger. You could die in the next two or three years. You know, they went through all of these things.

SCHUCH: It turned out the tumor had been affecting him since he was 16. That was the year he grew 10 inches to stand a massive 6 foot 7.

ROBBINS: I know what growing pains, though, are. I mean, it's something physical. Your muscles tightening. I mean, it's unbelievable. And we didn't have any money, so you know, my pants were, you know, the style now. You know, they would have been really perfect back then, you know...

(LAUGHTER) SCHUCH: When doctors finally nailed the problem in 1994, Robbins faced a difficult choice. I went through probably six or seven different specialists.

ROBBINS: One guy wanted to cut me. Another guy wanted to drug me. And fortunately, in the end, I met one or two doctors that said, well, I don't think I'd do anything. I think you'll be OK. And I just decided to stay with that surgeon. My body's fine. I'm fine.

SCHUCH: Another personal setback occurred last year. Tony ended his 15-year marriage to Becky Robbins.

ROBBINS: It was the toughest decision I made in my life, because I want to make everybody happy. The last thing I want to do is do something that would hurt somebody else's feelings.

SCHUCH: Becky is 10 years older than tony, and at the time they met had three kids. Marriage gave him an instant family.

ROBBINS: All of the sudden, I have a 11-year-old daughter, I had a 5-year-old son, I had a 17-year-old son. I'm really proud of the fact that at 24 years old, I stepped up and did that.

SCHUCH: To complicate the family setup, Robbins also had an infant son from a previous relationship. Becky and Tony built the business together. "Awaken the Giant Within," Robbins' second book, is dedicated to Becky, and she remains involved in the business.

(on camera): I don't want to exploit the pain of divorce.

ROBBINS: It sounds like you're about to exploit it. "I don't want to exploit the pain" -- well...

SCHUCH: But I -- but I would be remiss if I didn't ask you, Tony, because you do -- you do tell people how to be passionate, how to have successful relationships. I've listened to your tapes. And yet, you lost your marriage this year.

ROBBINS: Yes, I chose to end it. It was the toughest decision I've had in my life.

We had different directions for out life, different needs, different desires. We're very different people in many ways.

We shared our love of people and our desire to serve. That's still why we're partners in life and a business and raising our kids. But I wanted somebody who I didn't have to, you know, her desire in terms of tempo is very different than mine. You know, it's like going out on this boat or going -- riding my Harley like a bat out of hell or dive-bombing in my helicopter. These are parts of me that for other people to be happy I was always muting. And I'm not willing to mute that anymore, because, you know, I feel like I want them to have what they want, too.

SCHUCH (voice-over): Unmuted and going faster than ever with a new girlfriend. Could this be a midlife crisis perhaps? ROBBINS: No, I'm having a midlife celebration. I'm like -- I'm at a point in my life where everything I've worked for is there and I have so much joy that while I'm sleeping I'm helping people. And that juices me.

SCHUCH: Millions of people read his books, listen to his tapes and shout incantations at his seminars. But find out how the man who sells success hasn't had much of it on the Internet, when PINNACLE returns.




SCHUCH (on camera): You do elicit strong reactions. There's nothing subtle about -- anything about you?

ROBBINS: Well, I'm such a subtle man anyway.

SCHUCH: Why do you think you elicit such strong reactions from people who may or may not know that much about what you do?

ROBBINS: I think if you walked around with me, you'd see the same reactions in terms of the strong reaction. But I think it's the nature of what I do. And the infomercials especially put you in a bad light.


ROBBINS: I think you're seeing a form of technological Darwinism right now, and what I mean by that is the strongest survives.


SCHUCH (voice-over): Tony took self-help online last year and offered the public a slice of And just as he shares the conference podium with big names like General Norman Schwarzkopf, Lance Armstrong and Troy Aikman, he invited some of his famous friends to participate.

Big names and deep pockets like Tom Brokaw, Andre Agassi and NBC President Bob Wright got in on the ground floor. Dreamlife began as a reborn penny stock and reached $18 a share before flopping along with the dot-com market. An October filing with the Securities and Exchange Commission suggests that Dreamlife is rapidly running out of cash.

(on camera): It's been estimated your personal worth is something like $400 million. Do you know the extent of your holdings?

ROBBINS: Overall, yes.

SCHUCH: Is that a pretty good figure? ROBBINS: You know, I don't comment on that, because it's not -- all that does is create more of that stimulation. I think that number has shrunk sizably because some of that was tied to my public company, which as a -- the dot-com industry changed radically, evaluations changed.

SCHUCH (voice-over): While the majority of shareholders could stand to lose money, Tony, who owns two-thirds of the company, says he hasn't personally invested a cent.

Tony is living his dream life, enjoying a new girlfriend, and several hobbies, all of which involves speed.

SCHUCH (on camera): You like to go fast in your boat. You like to go fast on your Harley. You like to go in helicopters. Are you running away from something?

ROBBINS: No. I'm running toward what I love. You know, I'm not -- I'm not running...

SCHUCH: What's with the speed, though?

ROBBINS: I'm not running away from fear. I love it. You know, I think everybody's nature different. But I love -- I love to go fast. I love the experience of impact.

SCHUCH: You have a lot of material things. But how attached are you to them?

ROBBINS: If you asked me that when I was 28, I'd say -- I don't think I could have admitted it to myself. But it's like I own my castle, you know, I have my helicopter, you know. Those were -- those were my identity in those days to some extent, honestly. But you know, you mature hopefully as time goes by, and as I say, you have life experiences that make you look at what's really most important to you.

So I love them all, but if you took them all away, you know, I could do just fine anywhere, because I love my life.

SCHUCH (voice-over): And despite the millions of people who bought the Tony Robbins philosophy, he says he has no interest in becoming a guru.

ROBBINS: If you're coming here to be a follower, you know, get out of here. I'm -- I'm really a person who works with leaders. And I think everybody has got that ability inside. But to be a leader, you've got to be able to identify what you want, and know that whatever you want to achieve it, there's going to be a next level of what you're going to want to do with your life. You know, if you think your life is done, you're going to melt inside. It's like the astronauts go to the moon, come back, shake the president's hand, have a tickertape parade, and now what?

SCHUCH: And what's next for the man who's achieving his life goals at a cracking pace? (on camera): Are politics in the future?

ROBBINS: Potentially. I don't like what I see right now. I work with a lot of politicians, and so much of the time is spent raising money. If I was going to do something, I would do it from the outside with my own money, kind of like Ross Perot, who stuck to it, or a Steve Forbes.

SCHUCH (voice-over): But in the meantime, he's squeezing every last drop of enjoyment out of his big, glamorous life.

(on camera): What's a perfect day like?

ROBBINS: Make love to my lady. I think work out, because I just love -- you know, that's what I always do. I love the physicalness of that. And be outside: you know, running on the beach or whatever the case may be. Connecting with family or friends. Doing something fun. Having, you know, a great breakfast.

And then for me it's, you know, go ride the Harley with my lady, go boating, go play polo, you know, that type of thing.

SCHUCH (voice-over): Tony Robbins started with nothing but his own determination. By sheer force of will, he now has everything he could wish for. But just because life is easier doesn't mean he intends to relax.

ROBBINS: I push myself so hard, and I think of the tough times I've been through, like anyone's been through. I think when you get on the other side of them, what happens is they build emotional and spiritual muscle, because if you have nothing to resist, you don't build any muscle. If I want to build that bicep, I've got to push against something.

If life has never given you any real challenges, real push, any real difficult times, then I think you become weak. And I think one of the biggest challenges in life is that we try to make things so easy for everybody, we treat people like they're fragile, so they become fragile. I have such a respect for the human spirit, I believe that if you push with someone, they will grow, they'll expand.

Now, some people are not ready to be pushed. Some people are in a place where they're fragile. But the majority of people are underdeveloped in who they are because they're standards are so low and because the people around them accept them. And I believe that if you care about somebody, there's a way to get them to another level. And it's not being disrespectful or telling them they're wrong. It's finding that source inside of them that's still alive and fanning the flames of that intensity, give them a taste of who they are, and people start to change. And I found that in myself early on, and I haven't ever let go of that.




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