Who is Marianne Williamson? Five things to know about the debate’s biggest mystery

Author Marianne Williamson received significant attention on social media after Thursday night's debate.
(Wilfredo Lee / Associated Press)

Author Marianne Williamson rose to social media fame on Thursday night after her performance in Round 2 of this week’s Democratic debates left Americans perplexed and amused.

Despite her status as an unknown political figure relative to the likes of former Vice President Joe Biden or Sen. Kamala Harris, Williamson is no stranger to fame. Throughout her life and career, Williamson has worn many hats, ranging from cabaret singer to AIDS activist.

Here are five facts to know about the Democratic mystery woman.

1. She’s a New York Times bestselling author

NBC’s bio for Williamson during Thursday’s broadcast read, simply, “author.” But that’s an understatement. Over the course of her literary career, Williamson has published 13 books, including seven New York Times bestsellers.


Her debut self-help book, 1992’s “A Return to Love,” made such a splash that Oprah Winfrey bought 1,000 copies for her studio audience at the time.

Marianne Williamson leaves Democratic debate watchers transfixed and confused »

2. She has run for office before

The 2020 presidential election is not this Texan’s first rodeo. Williamson previously raised $2 million campaigning for a congressional seat in 2014.

She didn’t win, but ended up placing fourth out of 16. And she began dabbling in politics before that in 2010 when she created the annual conference Sister Grant, which invited women to be politically involved as candidates and activists.


3. She’s an established AIDS activist

Williamson has proved herself an ally to the LGBT community and people living with AIDS. In 1989, she founded Project Angel Food, a service that delivers hundreds of meals a day to home-bound people with AIDS.

Two years prior, she launched the Los Angeles Center for Living, providing counseling to those with “life-challenging illnesses.” For her activism, she has gained many LGBT supporters, whom she has said “created her career.”

Ignore Marianne Williamson at your peril »

4. She lectures alongside famous friends

Winfrey is far from Williamson’s only celebrity advocate. Williamson preaches her views on psychology and spirituality to live audiences, which have been historically star-studded.


Since she started in 1983, guests at her lectures have included Cher, Anthony Perkins, Lesley Ann Warren, Tommy Tune and Roy Scheider. Plus, she officiated Elizabeth Taylor’s wedding to Larry Fortensky in 1991. Taylor even credited Williamson’s “sense of spirituality” with inspiring her own. And the self-help guru has some star talents of her own — she worked as a nightclub singer before her literary career took off.

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5. She has a hefty following on social media

While not the most immediately recognizable candidate on the Democratic debate stage Thursday, Williamson is already a heavyweight on social media. At 2.65 million, she boasts more Twitter followers than many of her fellow candidates, including Sen. Kirsten Gillibrand and Mayor Pete Buttigieg.

Her debate performance sparked new interest in her online presence, with Twitter users sharing threads of old tweets like this gem from 2013: “Income inequality in America isn’t just unethical or immoral; it is unsustainable. Anyone who has read Yertle the Turtle already knows this.”