The Untold Truth Of Tony Robbins

Once known as the infomercial king, Tony Robbins has taken his self-help celebrity status higher than most could ever dream. His website is full of celebrity testimonials from the likes of Hugh Jackman and Usher. Even Oprah is a believer

But some of the folks who claim to have been severely burned during his signature "firewalking" demonstrations might not be anymore. Neither are his detractors in the science community, the personal wealth management community, the Federal Trade Commission, or the folks that agency represented who invested in a Robbins franchise. And none of that even begins to touch the woo-woo nature of the concepts of "Neuro Lingusitic Programming" and "pure energy" that Robbins espouses. 

So, what exactly are those methods, and do they really work? If you've got the minimum $800 you'll need just for a general admission ticket to one of his seminars, you could find out for yourself. For everyone else, we're breaking it down here with the untold truth of Tony Robbins.

Something funky's afoot with his 'firewalking' demonstrations

At expensive "immersion" events, Robbins routinely goads his followers into walking on hot coals. It's all part of a pricey, metaphorical journey to self-actualization in one's personal and professional life. Robbins calls his signature firewalk, the "ultimate metaphor for working through life's challenges and obstacles...firewalking is a potent symbol of all that is possible when you take those first literal steps to a freer, more fulfilling future." On his website, he warns that "to get through the fire, you have to have absolute certainty that you can and will succeed...When you lose focus, fear begins to creep in and that's when you begin to falter." Sounds incredible, right?

What Robbins' firewalking site fails to mention is that when prepared properly, this daring feat is a matter of hard science. Though a person can't walk directly on red or white-hot coals without getting burned, one can walk on the carbon ash coating the coals, so with enough burnt ash between one's feet and the hot coals, a person can seemingly walk on hot coals. David Willey, a physics instructor at the University of Pittsburgh, and an expert on the science of firewalking, told National Geographic in 2005 that human feet are poor conductors of heat. "Since the fire walker is indeed walking, the time of contact between feet and coals is minimal—too quick for the coals to burn or char the feet."

At least, that's how it's supposed to work.

Pay no attention to the burns on those feet

What's the harm in giving customers what they've paid for? It's right underfoot if you don't prepare the coals correctly, which is what allegedly happened at some of Robbins' firewalking events. According to The Washington Post, "Five people were taken to the hospital and about 30 to 40 were evaluated after sustaining 'burn injuries to their feet and lower extremities' after attempting to walk across hot coals" in front of a convention center at a June 2016 "Unleash the Power Within" event in Dallas, Texas. In 2012, nearly two dozen participants were allegedly burned during one of Robbins' firewalks in San Jose, Calif., reported The New York Times.

Robbins later appeared on Good Morning America to contradict the news reports. "Here's the truth," he said. "No one was injured." He countered that somebody who "didn't understand the process, saw people [who appeared to be injured] and called [911] and said, 'Bring four ambulances.'"

According to 911 calls released by TMZ, attendees had "very bad burns," prompting concern that additional units would need to be dispatched. Following the event, multiple reports speculated that firewalkers may have put themselves in danger by pausing to take selfies during the rite of passage.

He says he's not your guru, therapist, or financial advisor

Robbins charges exorbitant prices for his sage advice, yet he emphatically insists that he does not pretend to be more than he is. He is a life coach, but he is not a guru. He provides life skills training (and talks suicidal people down from the proverbial ledge) but he is not a therapist. He's a registered investment adviser and writes about mastering the money game but, according to one of his competitors, he is not a reliable financial advisor either. So what is he?

According to his website, "Robbins is an entrepreneur, best-selling author, philanthropist and the nation's #1 Life and Business Strategist." What exactly is a Life and Business Strategist, if not a guru, therapist, and financial advisor all rolled into one coach? Sounds like a bunch of self-help semantics to us, but you be the judge.

Neuro Linguisti- What?

Robbins reportedly swears by Neuro Lingusitic Programming (NLP), a controversial, consciousness-based belief system that took root in California in the 1970s. According to the Association for NLP, the practice is commonly referred to as the "users manual for your mind," and studying NLP offers "insights into how our thinking patterns can effect [sic] every aspect of our lives." Co-creator Dr. Richard Bandler has characterized the process as a veritable fountain of youth, asserting one's "ability for consciousness to influence our DNA evolution. In an interview with NLP Life, Bandler said, "It is obviously related to aging and the more we learn to control our consciousness, the more we will learn to control the quality of the DNA that keeps us young, the DNA that makes us smart...There is literally no limit to what we can do as we begin to harness the great power called consciousness."

However, some cognitive researchers warn that NLP is pseudoscience with "no scientific basis," and former geneticist Adam Rutherford warned that "Lots of real scientific terms — such as 'neuro' or 'nano' —  borrowed for a spot of buzzword scienceyness."

Maybe don't take his stock tips just yet

Robbins never went to college. Does that mean everything he says is garbage? Of course not, but according to his critics, it does mean that he lacks the formal training to call himself a "world authority on leadership psychology." When he speaks about the "science to achievement" and mastering one's psychology, he speaks as a layman — and one who stands to gain something.

When he speaks about investing, critics say he's also out of his depth. As Barry Ritholtz wrote in Bloomberg, "There is always risk of overreach when people venture outside of their skill set and into other fields. Such is the case with Robbins, who has decided to dabble in financial advice."

Oh, and there's another reason Robbins might not be all that trustworthy as a resource...

Empowerment through FTC intervention

In 1995, the Federal Trade Commission brought charges against Robbins Research International, Inc. (RRI) for allegedly misrepresenting the amount of money franchisees could make on their investments. Here's how the business model worked: franchisees paid RRI anywhere from $5,000 to $90,000 for the right to play video tapes featuring Robbins' motivational speeches and the ability to charge for admission. According to the FTC, Robbins' company claimed that franchisees "could sell 25 to 100 seminars per month and could earn between $75,000 to $300,000 per year."

The reality: even in 1995, people didn't want to pay Robbins' prices to watch Robbins talking. When the FTC investigated, RRI could not provide documentation to back up its promises. The corporation settled with the former franchisees for $221,260 and agreed to buy back unused kits. While the settlement did not constitute an admission of violating the law, it's still not a positive look.

The science behind 'pure energy' isn't quite there

Integral to Robbins's NLP-based self-help programs is the concept of "pure energy." For example, during an interview with CNN in 2013, Robbins spoke about overcoming trauma, asserting, "Science has shown that five minutes of rage...will shut down, literally, your immune system for four hours."

Literally? We're pretty sure there's a word for the immune system literally shutting down, and that's sepsis. Studies have shown that negative emotions can negatively affect one's health, including the immune system. Dr. Cynthia Thaik told The Huffington Post that "even one five-minute episode of anger is so stressful that it can impair your immune system for more than six hours." 

Robbins' claims aren't out of left field, but in the scientific community, there's a big difference between claiming something "will shut down, literally, your immune system" versus "can impair your immune system." Robbins' apparent willingness to exaggerate or misconstrue the research to promote his business is concerning.

His positive thinking attracts powerful profits

According to Celebrity Net Worth, Robbins' estimated wealth is about $500 million. That's some serious cash for pacing around onstage spouting self-help advice. How does he do it?

It starts with the price of admission to his motivational events. Robbins' engagements have five tiers: general admission, executive, VIP, diamond, and diamond premiere. Of course, they're not called "tiers." They're called "Levels of Commitment." Mind you, the lowest level goes for $1,095, though an intrepid deal-seeker can sometimes get a general admission ticket for a meager $795. If you want diamond premiere access, be prepared to shell out $2,995. 

The revenue from events is just part of the picture. When you consider the various infomercials, his TV spots, acting gigs, bestselling books, and extensive array of products, those numbers start to make sense. The Tony Robbins brand of success has made Tony Robbins very rich.

He tried to mansplain #MeToo. It didn't go well.

At one of his motivational speaking events in March 2018, Tony Robbins engaged attendee Nanine McCool in a debate about the #MeToo movement. McCool took issue with Robbins' suggestion that some women were using the movement in order to "make themselves significant by making somebody else wrong, and getting certainty." He reiterated several times that he wasn't knocking the entire #MeToo movement, but rather what he called "victimhood."

In the full 11-minute exchange, the towering Robbins is seen forcing the much shorter McCool to walk backward by pushing his fist against hers in an attempt to show her that "when you push someone else, it doesn't make you more safe." He also tells a story about a "very famous, very powerful man" who refused to hire the best qualified candidate for a job, because she was "very attractive," and he "can't have her around, because it's too big a risk."

Not surprisingly, the internet latched on quickly after NowThis put out an edited version of Robbins' remarks. The creator of #MeToo, Tarana Burke, also sounded off on Twitter, unleashing a scathing rebuke of Robbins, starting with the claim that "[his] people reached out to do damage control within 24 hours."

Though Robbins can be heard at the 8:00 mark of the video claiming he would not apologize for his already ill-received remarks (there were boos throughout this segment,) he did exactly that on Facebook just days after the NowThis video went viral. "I apologize for suggesting anything other than my profound admiration for the #MeToo movement," Robbins wrote. "Let me clearly say, I agree with the goals of the #MeToo movement and its founding message of "empowerment through empathy," which makes it a beautiful force for good."  

He was accused of sexual misconduct directed at employees

In May 2019, Buzzfeed News released the results of a yearlong investigation into Tony Robbins. The millionaire was accused of sexual misconduct by 10 different women, who came forward alleging that the star made sexual advances towards them or was naked in front of them. Buzzfeed reported "nine of them were upset by his actions," and a number of these women were employees.

One former executive assistant, who made a statement under oath, claimed Robbins inappropriately touched her knee during a 1990s job interview. Though he allegedly never touched her inappropriately while they worked together, she ended up quitting after "receiving a stream of phone calls from other women saying Robbins had groped them."

Robbins also allegedly exposed himself to three former assistants. A fourth assistant claimed Robbins asked her about nudity during her job interview "which felt 'sexually inappropriate, almost predatory.'" Another former staffer recalled a training video where "Robbins told one woman participant to twist her own nipples" to help her "[break] her pattern."

Another former personal assistant admitted to Buzzfeed that she had a consensual sexual relationship with the self help star in the 1990s and considered suing him for "sexual harassment and unfair dismissal" after she was fired when "his then-wife became suspicious." She met with Robbins' lawyers, was "scared to death," and never followed through.

Robbins' lawyers denied all allegations of inappropriate behavior in the Buzzfeed report.

Robbins was accused of 'groping' and 'mistreating' his followers

Robbins wasn't just accused of sexual misconduct geared towards his employees. The self help millionaire was also accused of "groping" and "mistreating" vulnerable followers through purposefully grueling workshops and bizarrely sexual practices. "Rarely was there a day when our team didn't get calls from women saying that Robbins had touched them inappropriately," an anonymous former executive assistant told Buzzfeed. "After events across the world, the phone calls would pour in."

In one instance, Robbins allegedly staged an "intervention" where he told a depressed woman to "fondle her breasts while she talked about the death of her sister," according to Buzzfeed. Two former bodyguards told the publication that Robbins would send them into the audience to find attractive women.

Robbins' alleged bad behavior wasn't always sexually charged. Company emails obtained by Buzzfeed outline concerns that his multi-day events — which are allegedly held in "deliberately cold" rooms and have few breaks for food and water — might have a negative mental impact on fans including "sleep deprivation and dehydration" as well as "mental breakdown after days of emotional exhaustion." His lawyers denied that there was a serious risk, but Alexander Schottky, who used to volunteer and Robbins' events, claimed he regularly witnessed fans "having breakdowns." Some became so delusional they allegedly believed they could fly.

Robbins' lawyers denied the allegations in the Buzzfeed report.