Obituaries

Louise Hay, 90, widely read self-help author

Ms. Hay espoused an upbeat message with a metaphysical underpinning.
Frederick M. Brown/Getty Images
Ms. Hay espoused an upbeat message with a metaphysical underpinning.

Louise Hay, who from a 1984 best-seller built a self-help publishing empire that has attracted millions of devotees with its messages about the power of thought and attitude, died Wednesday at her home in San Diego. She was 90.

Her death was announced on the website of her company, Hay House.

In books such as “You Can Heal Your Life,” “The Power Is Within You,” and “Meditations to Heal Your Life,” Ms. Hay espoused an upbeat message with a metaphysical underpinning. She wrote that there is a link between thoughts and disease and life’s other misfortunes, and she urged people to find a positive way to spin even the worst of them.

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Ms. Hay became an early example of the sort of self-improvement gospel that has sprung up over the last several decades. (A 2008 New York Times Magazine article about her carried the headline “The Queen of the New Age.”) And she was one of its most successful adherents.

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Few women have sold more books, and Hay House, which she started in her living room in the mid-1980s, has grown into a multimillion-dollar company handling a long roster of authors and an extensive line of products, including books, CDs, and online courses. The company also stages lectures and workshops featuring its authors.

Ms. Hay (who sometimes used the name Louise L. Hay in her books) was born on Oct. 8, 1926, in Los Angeles. Few details about her early life, including her surname at birth, are readily known, though by her account it was a difficult period. She recalled being abused by her stepfather and raped by a neighbor around the age of 5. As a teenager, she dropped out of school and gave birth to a girl, her only child, whom she gave up for adoption.

After living in Chicago for a time, she moved to New York, where she worked as a fashion model and, in the mid-1950s, married Andrew Hay, an English businessman.

They divorced 14 years later, and in her devastation afterward she went to the First Church of Religious Science in Manhattan, whose message about the power of thought to improve one’s circumstances resonated.

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“I heard somebody say there, ‘If you’re willing to change your thinking, you can change your life,’ ” she told The Times Magazine. “My jaw dropped. I said, ‘Really?’ ”

Ms. Hay began to study and practice that philosophy, and around 1977, as she told the story, she had a chance to put it to a serious test when she was given a diagnosis of cervical cancer.

She concluded, she said, that the disease had been caused by lingering resentment over the childhood abuse.

Refusing medical treatment, she said, she cured herself with a regimen that included nutrition, reflexology, and forgiveness.

About the same time, she compiled a small book, “Heal Your Body,” a reference guide to the mental causes of physical ailments. She expanded on these ideas and philosophies in “You Can Heal Your Life” (1984), which became a best seller; according to her company, it has sold more than 50 million copies.

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In 1985, at a time when fear of AIDS was high and those who had it were being shunned by much of society, Ms. Hay, by now relocated to the West Coast, began holding support meetings for people living with HIV or AIDS. The first sessions were in her home.

‘I heard somebody say . . . “If you’re willing to change your thinking, you can change your life.” My jaw dropped. I said, “Really?’ ”

“I said, ‘I have no idea what we’re doing, but I know what we’re not going to do,’ ” she recalled in 2008. “ ‘We’re not going to play Ain’t it awful.’ ”

Eventually the sessions, called Hayrides, were moved to an auditorium in West Hollywood, with hundreds in attendance, including mothers of those with the disease.

“Whenever a mother came, we gave them a standing ovation, because so many mothers weren’t speaking to their sons,” she said. What of the fathers? “The fathers almost never came — they couldn’t forgive.”

Ms. Hay’s brand of wisdom relied on catchphrases — “Life loves you” was one — and pithy if often vague affirmations that she urged people to adapt in their thinking. A list of “101 Best Louise Hay Affirmations of All Time” on louisehay.com includes these:

 Every thought we think is creating our future.

 My happy thoughts help create my healthy body.

 Only good can come to me.

 I always work with and for wonderful people. I love my job.

 In the infinity of life where I am, all is perfect, whole, and complete.

Other affirmations were developed for more specific purposes and problems. “You Can Heal Your Heart: Finding Peace After a Breakup, Divorce or Death” (2014), written with David Kessler, suggests affirmations for someone resentful over a divorce that was initiated by his or her spouse. One is “My divorce has no power over my future”; another, “I think we could still be married, but there is a greater knowledge in the Universe.”

Ms. Hay leaves no immediate survivors.

In the preface to “You Can Heal Your Heart,” Kessler, who writes and lectures on grief and loss, wrote of a conversation he had with Ms. Hay eight years ago in which she announced to him, “David, I’ve been thinking about it, and I want you to be with me when I die.”

Kessler wrote that the remark had led him to ask her if there was anything wrong.

“No,” she replied. “I’m 82, healthy as I can be, and I’m living my life fully. I just want to make sure that when the time comes, I live my dying fully.”