PLAYBOY: The president’s reaction?
ROBBINS: He said, “I came up with a much better program than Simpson-Bowles.” I answered, “Mr. President, with all due respect, your solution may be a better one, but no one is supporting it.”
“Well, in a matter of time, I can get this done,” he said. “The first thing I’m going to do is let the Bush tax cuts expire on the wealthy, and that will make a big difference in the deficit.” I told him, “A nonpartisan committee has estimated the total amount of money saved by letting those cuts expire will add up to only $40 billion a year. It costs $10 billion a day to run this country, so that money will last only four days.” At this point, someone came over and touched my arm and said, “I think that’s enough.” To the president’s credit, he said, “No, Tony is generating some creative tension here.” At the end, he looked at me: “Tony, you made me think today. Talk to my chief of staff. Let’s set a time for you to come to the White House.”
PLAYBOY: You’ve come a long way from South Central L.A., where you grew up. What was your household like?
ROBBINS: My mother was a very dominant person, a little wild—she had four husbands—and a little crazy. She never went out of the house. She trapped herself in her bedroom, covering the windows with tinfoil to block out all the light.
PLAYBOY: Was she agoraphobic?
ROBBINS: Not agoraphobic. As I said, she was an alcoholic and addicted to prescription drugs. As the oldest, I was her support system. I took care of my younger brother and sister, did all the shopping, made the meals, fixed the garbage disposal while she stayed in her room.
PLAYBOY: What was she doing?
PLAYBOY: Was she affectionate?
ROBBINS: Extremely. She loved her kids immensely. But as time passed, she became more violent and would go into extreme states where she’d be out of control. It wasn’t just the physical hitting, belts and coat hangers. She’d squeeze liquid soap down my throat until I threw up.
PLAYBOY: What effect did the violence have on you?
ROBBINS: It made me hate suffering. I’ve always hated it. And I think suffering was a great gift in my life.
PLAYBOY: But you must have felt angry about it.
ROBBINS: I used to live in anger and used my rage as energy. I converted it into drive, fortunately, because just being angry wouldn’t have changed anything. When I was 17 I got kicked out of my house on Christmas Eve. My mom chased me out with a knife. I knew she’d never hurt me, but I never went back.
PLAYBOY: How did you survive?
ROBBINS: I could fix anything, so I supported myself by knocking on doors, doing repairs for people. And I made $40 a week as a part-time janitor while finishing high school.
PLAYBOY: Did you give up on the idea of going to college?
ROBBINS: Yes. I wanted to be a sportscaster but had to figure out how to support myself. Around then, a family friend told me he’d gone to a seminar that changed his life. I thought, What the hell’s a seminar? Then I heard Jim Rohn, a personal development speaker, who shared a philosophy about how to grow and make your life better. I was on fire. I wrote him a letter and wound up working for him, making good money and reading everything I could about human psychology. I got exposed to neuro-linguistic programming, Gestalt and Ericksonian hypnosis.
PLAYBOY: Then, at the age of 21, you started doing interventions, right?
ROBBINS: Yes, I was on a radio interview and said, “I don’t care what the problem is. If you have uncontrollable phobias, come see me at the Holiday Inn, and I’ll handle it in one hour, because I’m the one-stop therapist!” I was a cocky little bastard. I was driven, hungry, and I had to sell confidence.
PLAYBOY: Didn’t you feel like a fake?
ROBBINS: No, I didn’t, because I produced results. I started charging $1,000 an hour, which sounds insane. “But you pay me nothing if it doesn’t work and if it doesn’t last.” I treated people who were severely depressed, who wanted to quit smoking. And the results I got fed me. That’s how success happens in life. You get results.
PLAYBOY: During those first years of success, did you go a little crazy with cars, sex and women?
ROBBINS: I bought a Rolls Corniche convertible when I was 23 and took my father over to our old house and did the tour. He lit up like a Christmas tree. Then I bought a big house I couldn’t afford, but the next year I made a million dollars and paid it off.
PLAYBOY: And the women?
ROBBINS: Well, I wasn’t a good--looking guy. Some people probably still think that’s true, but I certainly had a full experience with women for two or three years. I would have a dozen relationships simultaneously. And I’d be honest with all of them. But all that stopped quickly when I got married at 24 to a woman 11 years my senior. She had three children and had been married twice before. Imagine being my age and you’ve instantly got a 17-year-old son, an 11-year-old daughter and a five-year-old son, with another son of my own from a former relationship on the way.
PLAYBOY: What drew you to an older woman with children?
ROBBINS: I wasn’t looking for children. I was drawn to Becky because women my age didn’t seem to have a vision for their lives. I met her at one of my seminars. We developed a relationship, and she became my personal assistant. It was one of those small commitments that enlarged. I had a love for her—but I didn’t want to get married, and every time she talked about it I’d blow it off.
PLAYBOY: But you went ahead.
ROBBINS: She would have been so unhappy if I hadn’t. I was such a pleaser; I wanted to make her happy. But the -beauty that came out of it was my ending up the father of four. I’m proud of them all, and having them at the age of 24 made me stretch in ways you can’t imagine. One of my sons was addicted to drugs and alcohol, so he became one of my first clients. We got him through it, but traveling around the world while trying to be an effective father was challenging. All the things I treasured—including a sense of passion and intimacy with my wife—were interrupted continuously.
PLAYBOY: And your marriage didn’t survive.
ROBBINS: My wife and I were very different. She’s a woman who highly valued certainty and stability, while I was a wild, insane man driven in the extreme, craving uncertainty and adventure. As time passed, we were no longer aligned.
PLAYBOY: Did it end acrimoniously?
ROBBINS: It was painful. I wanted to end it, but my spouse didn’t. I kept telling myself, I have my mission, I love my kids, and she’s a great woman. Why can’t that be enough? But at 39, I didn’t want to spend 10 more years like that, and it became acrimonious. The divorce process took three years because we had a certain amount of assets to go through.
PLAYBOY: At the time you met Sage, you were still married, and so was she. How tricky was that?
ROBBINS: It wasn’t tricky at all because I’d already ended my relationship. And she’d left her relationship a year and a half before me, so there was no conflict.
PLAYBOY: How do you know when to keep working at a marriage and when it’s time to let it go?
ROBBINS: Well, I was stubborn. I stayed 14 years. I wasn’t a slouch. But you have to see how your natures are aligned. Sage and I are a natural match. We have the same values and beliefs. She has as much intensity as I have, and yet she has a calming effect because she’s so playful. I was a militant guy. I was a vegan and hadn’t had ice cream or chocolate in 20 years. Then Sage ordered a hot fudge sundae and I was like, “What the hell are you doing?” She goes, “Enjoying life, you bastard.” She loosened me up. She’s my karma for being able to help people. That may sound exaggerated coming from a guy who didn’t think one woman could fulfill him.
PLAYBOY: Why didn’t you think one woman could?
ROBBINS: After my divorce, before dating Sage, I was at a stage where I thought that would be totally impossible. I was a single, successful man. I’d taken my company public, and I was pretty intelligent—and humble, as you can clearly tell. [laughs] When I started dating again, I’d tell women, “I don’t want to be married. I’ve been there.” But I was crazy enough to bring women to my resort in Fiji for five straight days instead of going out and having lunch. I was so stupid. What most guys think would be their ultimate fantasy was the worst experience of my life. I was miserable because these women wanted to marry me after a week—my idea of hell on earth.
PLAYBOY: And did your women fans express interest in you?
ROBBINS: [Laughs] More than that. 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.
PLAYBOY: You must have been tempted.
ROBBINS: I was beyond tempted at times. There was no drought, for sure. I was like a kid in a candy store. Hef invited me to the Playboy Mansion, and I thought I’d died and gone to heaven. Women came bouncing on over to me saying, “Oh my God, Tony Robbins, you changed my life!” I had the greatest times.
ROBBINS: Quite literally. Having all these different women I could be with was the ultimate fantasy. One night some of them wanted to go home with me, simultaneously, for a nice, interesting group experience, which was something I thought I’d always wanted. Instead, I dropped them all off and didn’t take any of them with me.
PLAYBOY: Because you’d met Sage?
ROBBINS: Yes, she was the woman who had become my best friend, though for the first six months we were just buddies. I was always telling her everything about the women I was dating, and we’d laugh together and have such a great time. She helped me get all those women off the island in Fiji, and I ended up making the choice to be with her. That was the ultimate test.
PLAYBOY: So you believe in monogamy?
ROBBINS: I do for me, now, but I don’t know if monogamy is right for everybody. I wouldn’t have believed it was possible before. When I got divorced, I didn’t believe any man could stay in a long-term relationship with one person and be fulfilled. But I believe in it 100 percent today.