He had pneumonia, said his executive assistant, Laurie Magers.
Rising by one’s bootstraps through the “power of positive thinking” has long been a compelling narrative in American lore. Few messengers of prosperity have been able to sustain a relentlessly upbeat and lucrative career for as long as Zig Ziglar.
Zig Ziglar! A human exclamation point! The world’s most popular motivational speaker, as he was often described, was always excited because “you never judge a day by the weather!”
He was a presence at corporate retreats and conferences for firms such as IBM and J.C. Penney. For the general public, some people paid $49 to hear him live or $1,595 to buy his complete written and audio package. He won over crowds with his faith-filled proverbs and earnest metaphors about setting goals and facing down adversity.
“If you’re going to have to swallow a frog,” he said in his Southern drawl, “you don’t want to have to look at that sucker too long!”
Or: “You can get everything in life you want if you will just help other people get what they want!”
Or: “Have you ever noticed that people who are the problem never realize it? They’re in denial. They think denial is a river in Egypt!”
Or: “The more you gripe about your problems, the more problems you have to gripe about!”
What his words lacked in depth, they made up for in conviction.
“I’ve asked myself many times how Zig can say the same things people have been hearing all their lives, and instead of getting yawns he gets a tremendous response,” his friend Fred Smith, the former FedEx chief executive, told Texas Monthly in 1999.
“I think he’s a little like Billy Graham, who has never really departed from the same sermon he was giving back in his 20s yet who’s never lost any effectiveness,” Smith said. “After all these years, Zig still devotes every day to living this life he talks about, to applying some eternal truths about character, commitment, hard work and self-determination.”
For his most fervent admirers, Mr. Ziglar was an inspiring leader who every morning leapt out of bed to the opportunity clock, bussed his wife (“Hey, Sugar Baby”), and willed himself into a positive mindset by seldom lingering on crime stories and celebrity gossip while scanning his morning newspaper.
Texas Monthly described Mr. Ziglar’s love of comic strips, stories about sports teams that win and human interest tales that touched on the miraculous. He clipped them out and stored them in a file cabinet brimming with anecdotes about people who overcame disabilities and poverty and made it to state championships and the executive suite.