This is Part 5 of a BuzzFeed News investigation.
To read the rest of the series click here.
Tony Robbins faces a flood of fresh allegations from former fans and staffers who say he groped women, mistreated vulnerable followers, and ordered female audience members to touch themselves sexually.
The new accusations have emerged after BuzzFeed News revealed in May that Robbins has berated victims of rape and domestic violence, while some former staffers and fans have accused him of sexual misconduct.
Robbins has vehemently denied the allegations in each story and accused BuzzFeed News of “flat-out lying.” The self-help superstar says he has helped millions of fans overcome their darkest difficulties, while building a multibillion-dollar business and working with celebrities including Oprah, Serena Williams, the Kardashians, Donald Trump, and Bill Clinton.
But since the original investigation was published by BuzzFeed News, a wave of former fans and staffers have made new complaints about his conduct. Many of them spoke on condition that their full names not be used, fearing that taking on the self-help millionaire could harm them legally or professionally. BuzzFeed News has corroborated key details of their stories.
One more woman has now provided BuzzFeed News with a sworn statement accusing Robbins under oath of touching her inappropriately during a job interview— bringing the total number of women who say he made sexual advances or was naked in front of them to 10, with nine of them saying they were upset by his actions.
Two former followers have also now come forward to say they witnessed Robbins ordering women in the audience to touch themselves sexually, after BuzzFeed News published a transcript in which the self-help coach described telling a female participant to fondle her own breasts.
And former staffers and followers have raised fresh fears about the physical and psychological impact of Robbins’ unorthodox techniques on vulnerable fans.
Robbins strongly denied all the new allegations. His lawyers presented BuzzFeed News with nearly two dozen glowing statements from employees attesting to his character and stating they had never witnessed any inappropriate or disrespectful behavior. Many are still employed by Robbins and did not work for him during the period of his alleged sexual misconduct.
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The woman making the new sworn statement to BuzzFeed News, a former executive assistant, said that she often had to deal with the fallout from Robbins’ inappropriate behavior during her employment. The experience began when Robbins placed his hand on her knee during a job interview in the late 1990s, she said. “I felt uncomfortable and that it was not professional,” she said. Robbins apologized after she shoved his hand away, she said, and she went on to accept the job. The self-help coach never touched her inappropriately again and was “good” to her during her employment, she said, but she eventually quit after receiving a stream of phone calls from other women saying Robbins had groped them.
“Rarely was there a day when our team didn’t get calls from women saying that Robbins had touched them inappropriately,” she said. “After events across the world, the phone calls would pour in.”
Three other women who have worked as assistants for Robbins have previously told BuzzFeed News that he exposed himself to them. A fourth said that Robbins asked how she felt about nudity during an interview for a personal assistant job, which felt “sexually inappropriate, almost predatory.” And two former bodyguards told BuzzFeed News they were sent out to trawl audiences for attractive women on Robbins’ behalf.
Robbins has denied any allegations of inappropriate sexual behavior. Of the executive assistant’s allegations, his lawyers said that no “formal verbal or written report or complaint was ever made regarding such alleged encounters at any point.”
His lawyers have previously said he was “never intentionally naked” in front of staff. “To the extent that he may have been unclothed at various times in his home or in hotels when working while either dressing or showering, and whether a personal assistant may have been present for some reason at that time, Mr. Robbins has no recollection,” his lawyers wrote in a May letter.
In a statement provided by Robbins’ lawyers, one former personal assistant wrote that she had never witnessed any inappropriate behavior by Robbins and that “if Tony ever crossed a line with me” it was as a “father figure.” Another said that Robbins had never exposed himself to her and showed the “utmost discretion” when showering. Several former members of his security team gave statements saying they had never seen him make any sexual advances toward women in the audience.
But other former staffers and participants told BuzzFeed News that Robbins’ behavior toward women had made them uncomfortable.
“Rarely was there a day when our team didn’t get calls from women saying that Robbins had touched them inappropriately. After events across the world, the phone calls would pour in.”
One former staffer, who asked to be identified only as Lou, told BuzzFeed News that she was shown a training video in which Robbins told one woman participant to twist her own nipples and say “Calling Tokyo” as a way of “breaking her pattern.” Lou said that Robbins did this at “numerous events” and added that while she used to “idolize” the self-help guru, she now believes his work is harmful.
Gary King, Robbins’ former director of security, confirmed that he often witnessed the guru telling women at events to tweak their nipples and say “Calling Tokyo.”
Lou said she no longer had access to the “Calling Tokyo” video, but provided a link to another video in which Robbins told a woman to stroke her breasts as a way of getting back in touch with her “feminine” side.
Robbins lawyers denied that he had used this technique in the training video. Cloé Madanes, a family therapist who works alongside the self-help coach, provided a statement saying she could “personally vouch for Tony’s compassion, empathy and integrity” when dealing with victims of trauma.
At another event, in 2017, a former participant named Cara said she witnessed an “intervention” in which Robbins told a woman who was depressed to grab her breasts while she talked about the death of her sister and violent politics in her home country. “I was appalled,” she said. “I felt like he was making a mockery of her pain.”
Robbins’ lawyers said that there was “crucial context” to Robbins' interaction with this woman: He encouraged her to “breathe her into your heart and soul and remember that she’s not left you, she’s in you,” and told her that even though her sister’s death was painful, it was also “beautiful.” Robbins’ lawyers said the participant “willingly” responded, “It’s beautiful.”
Three more former staffers and three followers raised fresh fears about the physical and psychological impact of Robbins’ unorthodox techniques on vulnerable fans in interviews with BuzzFeed News.
The guru’s intensive multiday events are often held in rooms kept deliberately cold and run from early in the morning until well past midnight, with few breaks for food and water, and BuzzFeed News has previously revealed internal company emails detailing concerns about fans suffering mental breakdowns after days of emotional exhaustion as well as “sleep deprivation and dehydration.”
Robbins’ lawyers said there have been “very few reported instances of anyone suffering any form of significant physical injury or adverse medical condition” at his “thousands of events over the past 40 years.”
But Alexander Schottky, a former volunteer who said he staffed and attended Robbins events over 14 years, claimed that he “regularly” saw participants having breakdowns. Staff were asked to “shadow” some participants who became so disturbed that they believed they could fly, to make sure they didn’t jump out of any windows, he said.
Robbins’ lawyers provided a statement from Schottky’s ex-wife, who has worked for Robbins, saying that Schottky didn’t attend many seminars and she has “no idea what he means by mental health breakdowns.” She also claimed that Schottky told her he had married her to “gain access to Tony’s inner circle.”
Remee, a former follower who spoke on condition her full name not be used, told BuzzFeed News that she had personally suffered a breakdown at one of Robbins’ multiday coaching events in March this year. She said she had turned to Robbins for help because she had been feeling suicidal — and, at first, the event was euphoric. But soon she said she found the long hours, lack of food, and sleep deprivation difficult, and by the third day she was “really struggling.”
She began hyperventilating and vomiting in the bathroom, she said, and sat outside the auditorium sobbing and trying to calm herself down. Robbins’ staffers came over to her — but Remee said that instead of offering help, they pressured her to reenter the event, telling her she was “missing the real impact of his words.”
Remee said that she was “guilted into continuing,” but left during the next break and never returned. She said that nobody offered her medical assistance despite her visible breakdown. “I think I was too fragile to be at that event,” she said.
Remee provided photos and videos of herself at the event to corroborate her attendance. Shelley Avellino, a friend, told BuzzFeed News that Remee called her and described the anxiety attack to her on the phone that day. “I said, ‘Is there anybody there who can help?'” Avellino said. “She said no.”
Another former follower, who asked to be identified as Nick, said he began to have a panic attack at a seminar he attended in 2005, after a group exercise set off his social anxiety. Nick, who said he has been given the psychiatric diagnosis of schizoaffective disorder, said Robbins’ trainers began pushing him around and repeatedly telling him to “man up,” until he got “mad” and pushed back. He said he left the seminar and did not return. BuzzFeed News has reviewed Nick’s contemporaneous notes to confirm his attendance at the event.
Robbins’ lawyers said that the conduct of the guru and all his trainers in engaging with participants is “strictly governed by established protocol.”
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Another former fan, who asked to be identified only as Stuart, said he attended an event in 2003, at which members of the crowd were branded winners or losers based on whether or not they could afford a ticket to Robbins’ next event. The winners were told to “scream, humiliate, and verbally mock” those who couldn’t afford to pay. A friend named Horesh confirmed that Stuart had often talked about seeing Robbins “bullying and berating” participants at his events. Robbins’ lawyers denied that Robbins split the room into two groups or that there was a “loser” group.
BuzzFeed News reported on Tuesday that Robbins makes members of the audience who fail at his tasks drink a mystery liquid they were led to believe contains laxatives as a punishment. Robbins’ lawyers said that the drink did not contain laxatives, and instead has “pickle juice, apple juice, lemon juice, tomato juice and a dash of tabasco.”
A former staffer, who asked to be identified only as Shaz, said she saw people trembling or collapsing at events and not being able to get back up. She said that these participants were usually quickly escorted away from the audience so she didn’t always know what happened to them. She provided BuzzFeed News with internal emails and a photograph of Robbins with her and other staffers, to verify her attendance at his seminars.
Elizabeth, a third staffer, recalled seeing a message from a woman participant on Robbins’ Facebook page in 2017 saying that a Robbins event had been “overwhelming” and “awful.” The woman said she had been in her hotel room for the past five days, experiencing “extremes,” and she needed help. Elizabeth said that her team often received these types of messages.
“She was clearly in distress and there was no protocol on how to handle it, even though it wasn’t uncommon,” Elizabeth said. “Everyone would bump these concerns up but then nobody would do anything.” BuzzFeed News reviewed her staff contract and interviewed a friend who said that Elizabeth had previously raised concerns to her that the “proper protocols” to handle serious mental health issues were not in place at Robbins events.
Robbins’ lawyers said that all participants are “advised of the commitment and hours involved” before attending events and that there is a “robust medical team” onsite to offer support. The lawyers gathered statements from several employees, who said that all events were staffed by medical teams. They claimed that no major accidents or injuries had ever occurred in their experience. “Indeed, the vast majority of attendees report having a safe, positive and rewarding experience.”