Through his books and lecture tours, American self-help guru Wayne W. Dyer (1940–2015) inspired the global masses to optimize their potential. In a writing career that spanned four decades, Dyer published 21 New York Times best-sellers that examined selfdevelopment through the improvement of one's mental and emotional states.
Dyer spent the next few years living in orphanages and foster homes, and 1946 found him and his brother at a foster home in Mt. Clemens, Michigan, where he entered first grade. Two years later, Hazel married Bill Drury, hoping to achieve financial stability so she could bring her boys home. By 1949, the family had reunited, and all three Dyer boys were living under the same roof with their mother and stepfather in Detroit. The bliss of the reunion was short-lived, however: as the boys soon discovered, their stepfather was a verbally abusive alcoholic.
In fourth grade, Dyer experienced his first “a-ha” moment regarding the power of the human mind, and it occurred at an odd time: during a read-aloud of The Secret Garden. The novel, written in 1910 by British author Frances Hodgson Burnett, explores the concept of healing through the discovery of a “secret garden” that literally cures one of one's ailments. In his autobiography, I Can See Clearly Now, Dyer wrote that he looked forward to hearing the book each day because the story transported him from his troubled home life. Reading The Secret Garden, Dyer came to the conclusion that he could manifest his own secret garden—“the place within me that has no restrictions, no obstacles, and where I can create for myself a way of living that is immune to any and all influences that might bring me down.” He would explore this idea in book form throughout his adulthood, and the potential power of the mind became an ongoing theme in his work.
By 1955, Dyer was in high school and working at Stahl's market, a local grocery store. His brothers worked, too, and they all contributed money toward household bills. Hazel had filed for divorce, knowing that she and her sons would be able to survive on their own. By this time Dyer had discovered his passion for reading and writing and earned extra money writing book reports for his classmates. While in high school, he had a second spiritual “awakening” when he was sent to the principal's office for refusing to complete a biology assignment he considered frivolous. While waiting to see the principal, Dyer found a copy of Henry David Thoreau's Walden in the office and began reading it, becoming instantly intrigued with the writing style and contents. The book introduced the teenager to the idea of transcendentalism.
After graduating from Detroit's Denby High School in 1958, Dyer joined the U.S. Navy and was sent to Bainbridge, Maryland, to learn about naval communications so he could work as a radioman and cryptographer. Two years later, he was stationed aboard the USS Ranger, an aircraft carrier based in Alameda, California. Dyer later worked a tour of duty in Guam and was discharged from the Navy in September 1962, having reached the rank of petty officer second class.
After leaving the U.S. military, Dyer entered Wayne State University in his hometown of Detroit. In 1965, he earned a bachelor's degree in history and philosophy, followed by a master's degree in psychology in 1966. By 1968, he was married to Judith Matsura and had a newborn daughter named Tracy. To add variety to his studies toward his doctorate in educational counseling, he took supplemental classes at the University of Michigan in nearby Ann Arbor. One of those classes—The Psychology of Perception—had a lasting impact. The course explored hypnosis as a means to treat perceptual afflictions.
During this class, Dyer learned about the power the mind might have over the body. He also learned that a person's perceptions were controlled by their beliefs. The instructor demonstrated this principle in an experiment where he touched a woman with a pencil eraser and she shrieked in pain because she was convinced it was a redhot pin. Previously, the instructor had shown the woman a red-hot pin and let her feel its warmth near her cheek. The woman even blistered at the site where the eraser touched her; Dyer left the class fascinated.
In 1974, Dyer visited his father's grave and experienced another landmark moment that would influence his body of work. For his entire childhood, he had wondered about his father and was angry that the man abandoned the family. Dyer's father had actually died in 1964 but his son did not find that out until years later. On August 30, 1974, Dyer was in Biloxi, Mississippi, and decided to visit his father's grave. In I Can See Clearly Now he described that day as one of the most significant of his life.
Dyer spent several hours at the grave, talking to the man, and by doing so he found that his anger and resentment dissipated. He also sought out one of his father's friends and learned more about the senior Dyer's nomadic nature and his struggle with alcohol. As he wrote in I Can See Clearly Now, forgiving his father changed his life. “When I was able to forgive and send love where hatred previously dominated, everything in my life shifted,” he noted. “The right words were there, the right people began to show up, the circumstances magically appeared, all scarcity dissolved, my health returned, my energy was reignited, and my life became flooded with abundance.” Dyer would focus extensively on forgiveness in his subsequent work.
After forgiving his father, Dyer felt inspired to write a psychology book aimed not at academics, but at everyday people struggling to better their lives. He traveled to Ft. Lauderdale, Florida, and holed up in a hotel for 14 days, emerging with the manuscript for Your Erroneous Zones: Step-by-Step Advice for Escaping the Trap of Negative Thinking and Taking Control of Your Life. Published in 1976, the book encouraged readers to take charge of their lives by breaking free of negative thinking and learning to better manage their emotions. Dyer used the term “erroneous zones” to represent self-destructive behaviors like regret, anxiety, guilt, worry, and over-dependence. The book was eventually translated into 47 languages and sold nearly 100 million copies worldwide, making it one of the best-selling books of all time.
Dyer's book was slow to launch, however. The initial run of Your Erroneous Zones included 6,000 copies, and Dyer purchased 2,000 of those to force a second printing. After the second printing, he bought more. In this way, he kept the book in circulation—but he also had to unload the books and generate more interest to keep it in print. At this point, Dyer resigned from the university and went on the road to promote the book. To market it, he dropped his book at local radio stations, then followed up to arrange interviews. After Dyer appeared on the air, he took copies of Your Erroneous Zones to local bookstores so radio listeners could buy copies. He also spoke at businesses, colleges, and churches, including Unity and Science of Mind. He set up public seminars and bookstore readings.
Dyer's efforts paid off, and Your Erroneous Zones gained traction. In September 1976, he received another big break when he was invited to appear on The Tonight Show Starring Johnny Carson after the show's talent coordinator read his book. Dyer soon found himself booked on popular television talk shows like The Merv Griffin Show and Dinah! On May 8, 1977, his name appeared at the top of the New York Times best-seller list and stayed at number one for 27 months. Four days later, on May 12, Dyer sold out Carnegie Hall.
In 1978, Dyer rolled out Pulling Your Own Strings, which offered strategies for living a life free from the influences of others. The Sky's the Limit (1980) covered self-realization, while What Do You Really Want for Your Children? (1985) was aimed at helping parents teach their kids that they were in control of their own happiness. You’ll See It When You Believe It (1989) focused on personal transformation and introduced spirituality into the mix, as did Manifest Your Destiny: The Nine Spiritual Principles for Getting Everything You Want (1998) and 10 Secrets for Success and Inner Peace (2002).
In all, Dyer wrote more than 30 books. While he started his career writing about psychology, he later turned to spirituality, which he viewed as distinct from religion. As he told Toronto Star reporter Debra Black, “I think that religion is something that divides us, spirituality unites us. Most conflict on the planet is based on the imposition of a religion on a people rather than spirituality. It is much more important to be Christ-like, Buddha-like or Mohammedlike than Christian, Buddhist or Muslim.” As Dyer discovered, many people wanted books about God along with a dialogue about a higher awareness, but they did not want to receive the information in a religious format. Dyer delivered them an alternative.
Over the years, Dyer could be seen on television just as frequently as his books hit the best-seller lists. A favorite guest of many talk-show hosts, he appeared on The Tonight Show more than 35 times and was a regular on The Oprah Winfrey Show and The Ellen DeGeneres Show. Dyer and DeGeneres became good friends and he officiated at her wedding when she married Portia de Rossi in 2008. He also produced several PBS specials—most in lecture format—and was a regular pledge-drive guest on public television. Dyer further promoted his message with audio and video products, which were available for purchase on his website. He also ran online courses and wrote a blog.
Dyer was married three times. After separating from his first wife, he married Susan Casselman, but they divorced in the mid-1970s. In 1979, Dyer met Marcelene Rowan, with whom he had five children: Skye (born c. 1981), Sommer, Serena, Sands, and Saje (born in 1989). Marcelene Dyer had two children from a previous marriage who also joined the household.
Although Marcelene and Dyer separated around 2003, they never divorced. When this relationship of two decades ended, Dyer sank into a slump and wrote The Power of Intention, which was published in 2005. Four years later he released Excuses Begone!, followed by his 2014 autobiography I Can See Clearly Now. Despite his success, Dyer also had his critics, some of whom complained that his simple prescriptions for living a more fulfilling life would not help people with complicated problems. Charges that he plagiarized ideas also surfaced, but no cases were ever tried and he remained a popular, best-selling author throughout his lifetime.
Dyer was diagnosed with lymphocytic leukemia in 2009. He spent his last years living on the island of Maui and died on August 29, 2015. According to Steve Chawkins, writing in the Los Angeles Times, Dyer's family announced his death with a Facebook post that read: “Wayne has left his body, passing away through the night. He always said he couldn't wait for this next adventure to begin and has no fear of dying. Our hearts are broken.”
Dyer, Wayne W., I Can See Clearly Now, Hay House, 2014.
Dyer, Wayne W., Your Erroneous Zones, Funk & Wagnalls, 1976.
Los Angeles Times, September 1, 2015, Steve Chawkins, “Wayne Dyer, 1940–2015: Self-Help Guru with a Simple Message.”
New York Times, August 31, 2015, Bruce Weber, “Wayne W. Dyer, Prolific Author of Self-Help Books.”
Philadelphia Inquirer, August 28, 1983, Maralyn Lois Ploak, “Wayne Dyer: Let's Hear It for Me!,” p. 11.
Toronto Star, September 29, 2002, Debra Black, “Living a Deeper Spiritual Life,” p. F7.
Lilou's Juicy Living Tour website, https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=CaJXEJS-g94 (July 28, 2011) Lilou Macé, “Serena Dyer: Growing up with Dr. Wayne Dyer as a Dad!”(video interview).❑