A Tribute to Passion
The Success Margin
Tuesday, April 24, 2007
My old friend and copywriter extraordinaire, Gary
Halbert, passed away in his sleep earlier this
But while I'll always miss him, I'm going to resist
the temptation to fill this tribute with sadness.
Many talented writers have already poignantly
expressed their sorrow.
Instead, today I'll take this opportunity to
celebrate his life and memory. In the process,
I'll share some things you may not know. And
I believe Gary would enjoy this approach.
Gary had so many obvious talents. But his greatest
trait was the fire of passion--the lust for life he
always displayed in his writing, speeches and his
I also believe none of us ever really dies. Our
spirit lives on forever. And so do our memories.
This miraculous human skill enables us to have
our friends and loved ones with us forever. Isn't
it fabulous? We never lose those whom we most
I've been thinking with great fondness about my
personal experiences with Gary over the years.
Memories of many things have been flooding
back to me.
I've prepared a letter to Gary. It may contain
things about him you may not know. Plus, it
contains a great marketing message from which
we can all learn and benefit.
I believe he is looking down at us right now from
that great unknown. And like most of us, he loved
to get mail of all kinds. But he was especially fond
of personal letters. Here is my Gary letter:
"Dear Gary (wherever you may be),
How inconsiderate of you! I would have
appreciated some warning. At least you could
have said goodbye before you checked out.
I'm not going to write a sad tribute to you
Instead, I know how much you enjoyed
having fun, reminiscing about life, especially
the high points, as do I.
Remember when we first met? It was in 1978
(or around that time) in Los Angeles. We both
attended a meeting of the so-called direct
The small group was assembled and invited
by a colorful, eccentric and successful marketer,
Harvey Brody. Harvey marketed a successful
I also met for the first time other famous
marketers. They included Joe Karbo, who wrote
the famous book "Lazy Man's Way to Riches";
Melvin Powers, who authored several best-selling
mail order books; and George Hastings, who was
the King of numerous classified ads which
promoted business opportunities.
You and I had an instant mutual admiration
society from the beginning.
Your accomplishments were especially
impressive to me, even above the other very
successful attendees. I was a big admirer of your
famous Heraldry letter with less than 300 words.
It was by then mailed over 100 million times with
sales of around $75,000,000. I recall that you had
something like a dozen employees just opening mail
with checks and orders.
You said you loved all the full page space ads I
was running in magazines and newspapers for my
various books. Especially "How to Form Your Own
Corporation Without a Lawyer for Under $50,"
which sold approximately 2,000,000 copies.
I was also pleased to learn that you were a client
of mine in one of my first businesses, The Company
Corporation (TCC), which had formed a half dozen
companies for you. TCC went on to become the
largest incorporation company in the world.
Did we have fun at these meetings or not! And
it was great talking about our big dreams for the
As I got to know you better over time, you
continued to surprise and fascinate me.
For example, you were full of contradictions.
On the one hand, you'd always been a world-
class copywriter. You were blessed with an
irreverent, profanity-filled style unique to you
alone. You earned clients millions.
Plus, you earned big royalties for yourself,
which you so richly deserved.
On the other hand, you could never seem to
hold on to a single penny for very long. By your
own public admission, you literally went through
millions with little in material possessions to
show for it. But saving and investing never seemed
of interest to you.
For example, as I recall you spent $11,000,000
in less than a year when you sold your 50% share
of the Heraldry business. Wow! That must be a
I know you had a blast doing all the stuff you
did and spending every cent. And you always
relied on your amazing ability to bounce back
and earn money from marketing, consulting and
I always smiled and marvelled at your audacity
and guts, even when your copy didn't pull. For
example, when you ran an ad for a weight-loss
product that began "Attention all Porkers."
I don't believe you got a single order on this
When you went over the line and got into
trouble with the law (after hiring your drinking
buddies to run your company) and spent some
time in Club Fed (Boron Prison), you spent your
time writing the best course I'd ever seen on
direct marketing. You sent these classic lessons
in the form of loving letters to your son Bond.
These are now known as the Boron Letters.
You always expressed your great love for both
your sons. I also met at least four major women in
your life with whom you were either married or
And how you wore you heart on your sleeve
when things did not go well with those women
you loved so.
You began doing seminars out of your Key
West office I believe in the early 90's. I also
had by now "retired" (lasted 3 months--I hated it--
so I unretired!) and had begun doing my own
You then invited me to speak at several of your
Key West events. I did so. And it was always a
joy to be with you and your unique clients, readers
A highlight for me was working with you to
help raise over $1,000,000 for the victims of the
infamous Hurricane Andrew. This was the largest
single amount of money presented to the victims
who were wiped out by one of America's most
devastating hurricanes ever.
You talked with me about wanting to attend and
speak at my seminar. You will recall I loved the
idea except for one thing.
To honor my attendees, I insisted you had to
get rid of your awful, messy t-shirt and wear a
suit! I thought you'd have apoplexy. You hadn't
worn a suit for years.
But, by God you showed up at my seminar in
Tampa in a fabulous new three-piece suit. You
looked fantastic and did a great job with your
presentation. Remember when we jogged together.
This whole experience touched me very much.
I'll never forget what copious notes you took at
You said it was the most valuable seminar you'd
ever attended. Typical Gary Halbert, you even
published your personal notes from my seminar.
You then marketed them to your list for nearly
$287,000! I had never seen anyone do this. Some
people might have been upset. But I thought it was
extremely clever, even though I would not have
stood for or approved of anyone else but you doing
such a thing.
I trust these words find you being treated well.
I suspect you are still teaching the art of copy to
all your neighbors and friends in your new home.
I hope you enjoy sharing these memories sent
with love and affection, old friend.
I could elaborate much more about Gary and times
we shared together.
But I'll save it for another time. In the meantime,
what is the most important legacy and lesson Gary
left all of us whose profession rests upon writing
copy, speaking or communicating in any way?
In my view it was Gary Halbert's remarkable
ability to display and communicate authentic
passion and lust for life. He had the amazing ability
to love a lot of things--products, people, systems--
and to get excited about them and to let it all out.
What intense passion! And his copy was fuelled by
Most copywriters seem to block themselves from
allowing their passion to reach their highest
emotional level. This is a pity. The truth is, the
only way to move people to take action is to reach
them on an emotional level.
Moral of the story and of a life:
Get enthused. Get excited. Communicate from your
heart. Let your lust and passion show. Don't be
afraid to wear it on your sleeve.
Forget the tough macho style, whether you are a
man or a woman. Contrary to popular belief, it
takes great strength to allow yourself to be
vulnerable, to reveal your emotions before the
crowd. But when you feel free enough to do so,
your life will change.
Thanks again, Gary, for all you've taught us and
the example you've set. Your messages will live
on forever in our hearts.
P.S. The letter to Gary and a photo of the two of
us together in the Keys in December 2003 (not in
three-piece suits) can be viewed at:
© Copyright 2007 Ted Nicholas