In November 2018, author, lecturer, and social activist Marianne Williamson announced her intention to run in the 2020 presidential campaign. A straight-up, progressive Democrat, Williamson has called for an increase in the federal minimum wage, a reduction in income inequality, a “Medicare for All”, and a serious commitment to tackling climate change. So far, she’s received a mixed reception; although many have come out in support of her liberal blend of politics and spirituality, others have raised concerns over her political capabilities, her somewhat left-field approach to vaccines, and whether anyone who’s been hailed as a “spiritual legend” by Gwyneth Paltrow is really fit to be president. For 10 quickfire facts about the presidential hopeful, read on.
1. The College Dropout Turned Spiritual Leader
Born in Houston, Texas in 1952, Marianne Williamson was the youngest of three children. After finishing high school, she enrolled in a theatre and philosophy course at Pomona College in Claremont, California. However, she dropped out after two years and moved to New York to try her luck as a cabaret singer. This venture ultimately failed, and after a brief stay in San Francisco, she returned to Houston.
2. A Lifelong Connection to Spirituality
Williamson has been connected to the spiritual realm since a young age. Her mother, Sophie Ann, shared with People that as a young child, Marianne would often tell her mother to leave her alone because she was ‘talking to God.’
3. Los Angeles: The City of Breakthroughs
In 1983, with no job and limited funds, Williamson moved to Los Angeles. It was here that her lifelong interests in spirituality and theatre finally found their true expression, and she quickly began to make a name for herself with her unique brand of self-help, spirituality, and pop psychology.
4. A Bestselling Author Emerges
In 1992, Williamson published her first book, “A Return to Love: Reflections on the Principles of a Course in Miracles”. The book enjoyed huge success, spending 39 weeks on the New York Times Bestseller list and 11 weeks at number one on the Publishers Weekly non-fiction best-sellers list. While some credit it with bringing New Age wisdom into the mainstream, others have dismissed it as tasteless and vulgar.
5. Controversial Leadership Style
In the early 1990s, Williamson’s leadership style was questioned when tales from former employees emerged, suggesting her ego, abrasive management style, and habit of alienating her allies were undermining her various charities. One former associate told People, “Marianne is a tyrant. She’s cruel–unnecessarily–and very controlling.”
6. David Geffen’s Support for the Los Angeles Center for Living
During the HIV/AIDS epidemic of the 1980s, Williamson came up with the idea of the Los Angeles Center for Living, a community designed to provide psychological and emotional support to people living with the disease. In 1987, she opened the center with the backing of music mogul David Geffen, who later contributed another $50,000 to open a sister-center in Manhattan.
7. Rejecting the ‘New Age Guru’ Label
Williamson’s brand of spirituality has often led the media to label her a “New Age guru”- a title she doesn’t take too kindly. “The press creates a caricature,” she told the LA Weekly. “You label somebody ‘New Age,’ and that’s automatic mockery: ‘She cannot possibly be a serious thinker.'”
8. A Star-Studded Circle of Friends
Throughout her career, Williamson has attracted the attention and support of some of the world’s most famous names, including Elizabeth Taylor, Nelson Mandela, Bill and Hillary Clinton, David Geffen, Oprah Winfrey, and Laura Dern.
9. A Controversial Stance on Vaccines
At a Democratic debate in June, Williamson incited controversy after she called mandatory vaccines “draconian” and “Orwellian”. In response to the fallout, Williamson retracted her comments, telling the LA Times: “I understand that many vaccines are important and save lives… I am sorry that I made comments which sounded as though I question the validity of life-saving vaccines. That is not my feeling and I realize that I misspoke.”
10. A Private Family Life
In 1990, Williamson gave birth to her first and only child, a daughter named India Emma. She has never revealed the identity of India’s father and has remained private about her daughter’s life. “My daughter lives in London, and that is about as far as I will go in discussing her,” she told LA Mag.
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