Zig Ziglar, motivational speaker and author, dies at 86

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In Zig Ziglar’s world, the morning alarm rang on the “opportunity clock.” And “if you aren’t on fire” when you get to work, “then your wood is wet.”

Ziglar, a motivational speaker whose “Success Rallies,” “Born to Win” seminars, more than 25 self-help books and countless audiotapes attracted millions of devoted followers with homespun advice on career advancement and moral uplift, died Thursday at a hospital in Plano, Texas. He was 86, and 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 Ziglar.

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.

His first book, “Biscuits, Fleas, and Pump Handles,” published in 1974 and later retitled “See You at the Top,” urged readers to reevaluate their lives with a “checkup from the neck up” and to quit their “stinkin’ thinkin.’ “

Ziglar spoke often of his religious awakening in 1972 and invoked his faith in book titles such as “Confessions of a Happy Christian” (1978) and “Confessions of a Grieving Christian” (1998), which he wrote after the death of his eldest daughter, Suzan Witmeyer, from pulmonary fibrosis in 1995.

Ziglar, who sometimes earned tens of thousands of dollars per speech and other times waived his fee, kept up a rigorous touring schedule until retiring in 2010.

“Yesterday ended last night,” he liked to tell himself. “Today is a brand-new day. And it’s yours.”

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