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 life.
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 care about.
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 today.
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 marketing heavyweights.
The small group was assembled and invited by a colorful, eccentric and successful marketer,Harvey Brody. Harvey marketed a successful home-study course.
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 wasthe 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 Iwas 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 future.
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 record!
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 writing copy.
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 offer!
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 romantically involved.
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 seminars.
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 and attendees.
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’tworn 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 this seminar.
You said it was the most valuable seminar you’dever 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 wasextremely clever, even though I would not have stood for or approved of anyone else but you doingsuch 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 Garyleft 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 this emotion.
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 reachthem on an emotional level.
Moral of the story and of a life:
Get enthused. Get excited. Communicate from yourheart. 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: //www.tednicholas.com/tn_gh.html
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