Microkhan by Brendan I. Koerner

“You’ll Talk About Him Forever”

March 19th, 2010 · 7 Comments


In reading about Universal’s decision to nix P.T. Anderson’s The Master, a movie obviously inspired by the founding of Scientology, we found ourselves heartily agreeing with several of The A.V. Club‘s commenters: Perhaps what the world needs isn’t a flick about L. Ron Hubbard’s quasi-religious scam, but a Hollywood-style biopic about the even more fascinating (and still alive) Werner Erhard, the man behind EST.

You probably already know the rough outlines of Erhard’s remarkable tale: Used car salesman turns into spiritual guru, then sells his whole system for a fortune beyond belief. In delving into the man’s heyday, we were struck by his obvious genius for playing the media. Take, for example, this 1975 piece from Cosmo, which takes the concept of subjective journalism to new lows:

The very next day, back in my reporter role, I fly up to San Francisco to meet Werner Erhard. Like my est fellow travelers, I’ve moved from the position of believing he’s a charlatan to believing he’s set himself up to be a Godhead. I didn’t know then that I was following the usual route, and that the next step is to thinking he’s really God, then Robert Redford, then Daddy. Several weeks later I realized he was no longer any of those things to me and I was free to really dig him. Because, in fact, he is the most intriguing human being I’ve ever known, and when somebody in est said to me, “You’ll talk about him forever,” she was probably right.

The article also notes that the salaries for EST’s 160 employees ranged between $7,200 and $30,000. Erhard himself, of course, did a fair bit better.

More on his brief auto racing career here.

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7 Comments so far ↓

  • scottstev

    The best EST spoof by far was in Semi-Tough . (See the part about not being able to go to the bathroom).

    Once again, I can credit “Bloom County” for filling me in on this cultural trend long past it’s sell-by date.

  • Ian

    His descendants are still at it in full force here in the Bay Area (the defenses from current employees in the comments are especially instructive)…

    http://www.eastbayexpress.com/eastbay/i-am-annoyed-and-disappointed/Content?oid=1370662

  • Brendan I. Koerner

    @Ian: The defenders certainly seem to be fans of ALL CAPS.

    I am instantly suspicious of any spiritual system that is copyrighted. Very strange that Erhard was able to sell EST to his employees for $18 million.

    @scottstev: Six Feet Under also did a great take on EST. They called it The Plan–and, yes, they revived the no-bathroom joke.

  • Jordan

    @scottstev

    Oh man, the Rajneesh storyline was amazing. Opus in a bejeweled turban was just awesome.

  • Howard Schumann

    Strange how most detractors of Werner Erhard never met the man and never took any of the programs he offered. They just like to repeat media drivel that masks the true nature of the man, his genius and his humanity.

  • Gary

    @Brendan – You sure that’s right, I heard EST was sold for $118 million?

  • Brendan I. Koerner

    @Gary: Can’t really vouch for that sales figure. Took it from Wiki, and the source is in German. Did a quick search through Google News Archives, but no free clips contained a figure for the ’91 sale.

    That said, $118 million seems like way too much. EST was a shell of itself by ’91, though I saw annual revenue figures of btw. $30 and $45 million. Keep in mind that Erhard was a motivated seller, since he was leaving the country to avoid some tax disputes.

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