There were many standout moments during the 2019 Democratic debates last night: Sen. Kamala Harris shutting down former Vice President Joe Biden; Rep. Eric Swalwell’s awkward, Real Housewives-esue opening joke about Washington politics; and Sen. Bernie Sanders snapping at Rachel Maddow for (accurately) quoting him on his previous stance on guns.
But according to many on social media, the star of the debate hands-down was Marianne Williamson. Best known as a spiritual guru (a term she eschews) and F.O.O. (Friend Of Oprah), Williamson stood out among the crowd of Democratic hopefuls: with her husky, Southern-fried accent, her tendency toward histrionics, and her predilection for referring to national heads of state as “girlfriend,” she came off like a cross between Stevie Nicks, a Tennessee Williams character, and your mom after she took too much Xanax on a plane.
Williamson became well-known during the 1980s as a spiritual leader in California, and became a monstrous success in the publishing world with her 1992 self-help book A Return to Love. She’s run for public office before: in 2014, she campaigned to succeed Rep. Henry Waxman for the 33rd Congressional District of California. (She lost, badly.) But she’s primarily known as a best-selling author of self-help tomes like her most recent book, A Politics of Love, which calls for a political revolution driven by love and acceptance.
Although Williamson has no actual political experience and came off during the debate as less than a polished establishment candidate (or as a “spectacular witch,” as one Twitter user put it), it would be unfair to characterize her run as mere PR stunt, nor are her political views wildly off-kilter: indeed, many of her views on issues such as immigration and reproductive rights are shared by other candidates, and she’s long been a staunch advocate for issues such as reparations for black Americans. She also has an established background in activism, serving as an ally for the LGBTQ community since the early days of the AIDS epidemic, and providing compassion and support for those suffering from the disease at a time when few others had the courage to do so.
That said, in the context of a presidential election, Williamson’s background — not to mention many of her beliefs — are, shall we say, a little bit unorthodox. Here’s a list of 11 absolutely wild things you need to know about the self-proclaimed “bitch from God” — or, put another way, here are the most Marianne Williamson facts about Marianne Williamson.
1) She’s been endorsed by Kim Kardashian
Marianne Williamson has built a tremendous following in Hollywood, attracting such fans as Alanis Morrisette, Eva Longoria, and Jane Lynch (all of whom recorded endorsement videos for Williamson when she campaigned to succeed Rep. Henry Waxman for the 33rd Congressional District of California back in 2014). By far her most prominent fan, however — other than Oprah, of course — is Kim Kardashian, who publicly endorsed Williamson on Instagram during her 2014 campaign. Kardashian referred to Williamson as “very inspiring” and posted a photo with her and fashion designer (and rumored former Jay-Z paramour) Rachel Roy. So far, though, she hasn’t said a thing about her bid for 2020.
2. She used to be roomies with Big Little Lies star Laura Dern
Among Williamson’s Hollywood acolytes is Laura Dern, star of HBO’s Big Little Lies and Gay Twitter favorite. The latter community was set aflame when, following the debate, multiple outlets reported that for a brief period in the 1980s, Williamson and Dern had lived together, according to a New York Times profile on Dern. Dern later explained to the Guardian that she had wanted to become legally emancipated from her parents, but was only allowed to do so on the condition that she live with family friend Williamson, who was 15 years older — thus permanently cementing Williamson’s status as Spiritual Mommy.
laura dern and marianne williamson were roommates!!!!!!! pic.twitter.com/rutrhY1Wfa
— corbin dewitt (@corbin_dewitt) June 28, 2019
3) She spent part of her youth dabbling in “bad boys and good dope”
Before establishing her bona fides as a spiritual leader on the West Coast, Williamson spent her twenties somewhat adrift, temping and briefly working as a cabaret singer. Her life in early 1970s New York City, as she described it in a Los Angeles Magazine profile, was a haze of “bad boys and good dope.” It wasn’t until she was gifted with a copy of the spiritual text A Course In Miracles that she says she found her calling, and started lecturing about it at a Los Angeles bookstore. “I had no idea that it would change my life forever,” she said.
4) She also spent some time living in a commune in a geodesic dome in New Mexico
For those who didn’t major in architectural history in college, that’s a hemispheric structure made up of tiny triangles, the most prominent example of which is in the seminal mid-90s Pauly Shore film Bio-dome. Williamson said in a 2009 interview that she spent most of her time growing vegetables there, which is about the only thing one imagines one can do while living on a commune in a geodesic dome in New Mexico.
5) The author of the book that inspired Williamson’s spiritualist career claimed it had been personally dictated to her by Jesus
Williams credits A Course In Miracles — a 1,000-plus-page text that advocates for love as a means of achieving spiritual transformation — as a major influence on her work. When it was initially published in 1976, the author remained anonymous; it was later revealed that clinical psychologist Helen Shucman, who passed away in 1981, had written it. Shucman claimed she had been inspired to write it when she started hearing the voice of Jesus, and that Jesus had personally dictated it to her in a series of dreams and visions. If the extremely abstruse language used in the text is any indication (“God’s extending outward, though not His completeness, is blocked when the Sonship does not communicate with Him as one,” one exemplary passage reads), apparently, Jesus is not a great writer.
6) Williamson is critical of vaccines
At a campaign event in New Hampshire last week, Williamson drew controversy when she referred to mandatory vaccination as “Orwellian” and “draconian.” (The Centers for Disease Control refutes this, and argues that mandatory vaccination is necessary to maintain the threshold for herd immunity against preventible childhood illnesses like measles, which led to 110,000 global deaths in 2017.)
Williamson later (sort of) clarified her stance. “I understand that many vaccines are important and save lives. I recognize there are epidemics around the world that are stopped by vaccines,” Williamson said in a statement on Twitter. “I also understand some of the skepticism that abounds today about drugs which are rushed to market by Big Pharma. 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.” Many, however, were unswayed, pointing out the both sides-ism of her statement and calling Williamson out for her history of criticizing mandatory vaccination, including a 2011 Facebook post where she said, “the issue isn’t black and white.”
7) She reportedly helped Steven Tyler get off drugs
In a 2012 interview with Rolling Stone, <the Aerosmith frontman credited Williamson with helping him recover from drug and alcohol addiction. (She did not, however, cure him of another one of his vices, apparently saying, “What do they expect? You’ve been a rock star for 20 years,” when doctors tried to treat Tyler for sex addiction.) Tyler also made a cameo appearance at Williamson’s church, singing a gospel version of “Amazing Grace” back in 2001.
8) She officiated one of Elizabeth Taylor’s weddings
According to the law of celebrity probability, Williamson must have been involved in at least one of Hollywood legend Elizabeth Taylor’s eight weddings: specifically, she officiated the last one, to construction worker Larry Fortensky, whom Taylor wed in 1991. Though the marriage didn’t last, Williamson and Taylor forged a lifelong bond, with the latter claiming that Williamson’s “sense of spirituality triggered off my own.”
9) She is allegedly not the best person to work for.
While perhaps unsurprising that someone who describes herself as a “bitch for God” would be a less than ideal manager, Williamson’s fans were shocked when, in 1992, Entertainment Weekly published a story alleging that Williamson used bullying and intimidation tactics to keep her employees in line, with one former Williamson acolyte criticizing her ”despotic, tyrannical streak and inability even to hear dissent.” The story also claimed that Williamson used her charitable works, such as her Centers for Living and her charities to benefit people with AIDS, as a front to furnish her own brand. Williamson denied the allegations with a response that could best be summarized as “bitches be jealous”: ”I have a dramatic personality,” she told EW. ”If I do things right, it’s a big right; if it’s wrong, it’s a big wrong.”
10) She once gave a speech at Mar-A-Lago
Back in the 1990s, after Williamson opened a Center for Living in Palm Beach, Florida, she was invited to speak at a fundraiser at Mar-a-Lago, Trump’s resort in the area. In a 2016 interview, Williamson said that she did not want to go until she received a call from a Trump associate telling her that he had only held the fundraiser as an opportunity for this then-wife Marla Maples to meet Williamson, and that he would cancel it if she did not show up. “I remember being very upset and feeling bullied,” she said. “That’s why I attended the event.”
11) She really, really, REALLY loved the movie Avatar.
As a viral thread by Buzzfeed reporter Ellie Hall demonstrates, Williamson’s Twitter is, in a word, bonkers, full of exactly the type of spiritualist koans and vaguely comprehensible messages of self-empowerment that one would expect from a self-help guru plugged by Oprah. It is also, essentially, an Avatar =fan account, with Williamson repeatedly plugging the Oscar-winning James Cameron film in a series of rapturous tweets:
All the films were good but AVATAR has changed the world. He didn't win an Oscar tonight, but James Cameron deserves a Nobel Peace Price #fb
— Marianne Williamson (@marwilliamson) March 8, 2010
If you want a simple explanation for what's happening in America, watch AVATAR again.
— Marianne Williamson (@marwilliamson) October 26, 2017
Saw AVATAR tonight. Absolutely unbelievable. Run, don't walk. #fb
— Marianne Williamson (@marwilliamson) January 4, 2010