By then, Ms. Williamson was growing into her role as a full-blown celebrity, jumping between New York and the hills of Southern California. In 1991, she officiated Elizabeth Taylor’s wedding — a ceremony at Michael Jackson’s Neverland Ranch — and offered counsel to Bill and Hillary Clinton at a 1994 Camp David visit. She crossed paths with Donald Trump, who requested her presence at a Mar-a-Lago fund-raiser so that she and Marla Maples might meet. Time magazine called her “Hollywood’s New Age attraction.”
More books, based on the Course, followed at a regular clip — at least six have climbed the New York Times best-seller list — each offering nostrums on the curative power of thought.
Weight loss? “The cause of your excess weight is fear, which is a place in your mind where love is blocked.”
Poverty? “Many people fail to manifest money because on some deep level they don’t think they should.”
“Disease,” she wrote, “is loveless thinking materialized.”
With celebrity came scandal and criticism. Early on, conservatives dismissed her work as lowbrow woo-woo. In a cutting review from 1992, the Commentary writer John Podhoretz called her writing “unspeakably tasteless,” her theology shallow. He allowed that there were flashes of homespun charm but concluded, “Williamson is merely peddling a brand of Religiosity Lite.” Christian polemicists also went after Ms. Williamson, labeling the messages of the Course as heretical. One group, the Christian Research Institute, ominously described the narrator of the Course as not divine at all, but “a demon cleverly impersonating Jesus” bent on turning a “person’s perception against Christian faith and toward New Age occultism.”
There were also high-profile fallouts with collaborators over the years. Members of her charity’s board of directors saw her as an intolerant manager who hated to be upstaged; some of the more secular-minded members grew uneasy with Ms. Williamson’s penchant for opening fund-raisers with prayer.
Meanwhile, there were leadership struggles in the community of Course students, which had continued to swell over the years, in large part thanks to Ms. Williamson’s work. There was never a central Course authority, exactly, which led to murky copyright disputes: If the channeled book really came from Jesus, could anyone claim publishing rights?