Goldin, Paul (1927–2008), entertainer and clinical psychologist, was born Ronald Paul Gold in London on 15 April 1927, the son of Charles Gold and his wife Minnie (née Elbury). The Golds were a Jewish family living in London's East End, and Paul's father may have been a psychiatrist; his brother Jack Gold (b. 1930) became a producer, director and writer in British film and television. Though not religious, Goldin identified as Jewish and with the state of Israel.
As a medical student in University College, London, he earned money by treating fellow students to humorous lunchtime lectures on psychology and self-improvement that incorporated hypnotic demonstrations. Having alighted on his vocation as an entertainer-cum-snake-oil-purveyor, he abandoned his studies, graduating instead to performing at Speaker's Corner in Hyde Park and then to touring as a stage hypnotist on the English workingmen's club circuit, serving a tough apprenticeship at the bottom of the bill.
His big break occurred when Irish actor and theatrical manager Frank O'Donovan grasped his act's likely appeal to a still superstitious rural Ireland. In spring 1950 he toured the market towns of Connacht and Leinster as the star attraction in O'Donovan's travelling variety show, playing to packed ballrooms, cinema theatres and parish halls. Promotional material asserted that he was a Frenchman named Paul Goldin who had studied medicine and psychology in the 'university of Paris', spoke several languages and had exhibited supernatural powers from childhood. His French persona, and imperfect but serviceable accent, was prudent given the depth of anti-English sentiment in Ireland. Initially, he similarly dissimulated his Jewish ethnicity, later proclaiming that his family of French Jews had fled the Nazis for England in 1939.
Remaining active in Britain, and also occasionally performing in America (including Las Vegas), Australia and South Africa, he returned to Ireland with increasing regularity from the 1960s, as the country emerged as his most reliable and lucrative market, and became a fixture at the Olympia Theatre in Dublin and a familiar presence on radio and television. He spent most of his periodic absences travelling the world in a recreational capacity, resuming work when he needed money, but claimed variously to have been honing new powers, touring Russia, conducting parapsychological research, and earning an MA in behavioural psychology at the University of Hawaii. Throughout his career, he stressed his credentials as a psychologist and academic, though all were obtained from institutions distinguished only by their remoteness. The Irish media gratefully propagated his outlandish fictions, including claims of intimate friendship with Hollywood luminaries and to have assisted both the Soviet army and the CIA, the latter by deprogramming brainwashed survivors of the Jim Jones cult in Guyana. There was also a succession of publicity stunts, most notably in 1979 when his widely broadcast intention to jump without a parachute from a plane over Ipswich, England, and levitate to the ground was thwarted by police intervention.
Blessed with the key hypnotic attribute, a honey-tongued voice, he held audiences spellbound, eschewing magic tricks and illusions in favour of a scientific gloss and further underlining the gravity of proceedings by banning the serving of alcohol for much of the show. The preliminary solemnities and pseudo-psychological puffery aside, his routine's core was pure slapstick, seasoned by as much smut as the prevailing moral sensibilities would tolerate. Giving licence to the strain of ostentatious buffoonery, affected or otherwise, running through the Irish psyche, he manipulated volunteers into such antics as behaving as if they were infants, renowned pianists or ballerinas; covered with ants; bereft of their bellybuttons; milking cows; or on a date with a film star. For his grand finale he dispatched entranced audience members into the night on a frenzied leprechaun hunt, irritating Dublin gardaí who complained of the disruptions caused as patrons spilled heedlessly onto busy thoroughfares.
Early in his career, clerical condemnation terminated a run in Cork city, and he toned down his act to placate the priests controlling the parish halls in which he performed. As concerns grew about hypnotism in the late 1950s, he had his demonstrations endorsed by Fr Feighin O'Doherty (qv), a distinguished academic and psychologist, and denied that he was a hypnotist, showcasing instead as a practitioner of mental telepathy through his 'sixth sense'. Regardless, Jack Gibson (qv), Ireland's leading medical practitioner of hypnotherapy, criticised Goldin for exposing his subjects to post-hypnotic regression. In 1963 a young woman fell into a coma for three days after being hypnotised by Goldin, while in 1974 a man sued alleging that he suffered injury because Goldin neglected to dehypnotise him properly, and received £4,000 in compensation from the proprietors of the Olympia Theatre.
Behind the charming exterior lurked an acquisitive and ruthless operator who pressured the competition by condemning what he called the many frauds populating his discipline and who punctuated his shows with promotional gimmicks designed to win repeat custom and abet his after-show sales of hypnotic and psychological literature. From the outset, he touted his professional services as a psychologist and hypnotherapist, maintaining that he had clinics in France, England and the USA. He also published booklets offering correspondence courses in hypnotism, psychology and conditioning the mind to retain information, once causing uproar with a sexually indelicate questionnaire. Serially initiating short-lived moneymaking ventures (most being akin to pyramid schemes), he exploited Ireland's generous limited liability laws by milking his companies for cash, leaving creditors and customers out of pocket, and keeping the courts busy both as defendant and plaintiff.
These troubles arose partly because he lost interest once something ceased to challenge him, a predilection that also informed his amours, as countless women succumbed to his suave manner, diabolical aura and glamorous lifestyle. He had three sons with his first wife Miriam, but they divorced in the early 1960s because of his philandering; in 1964 he married Patricia Smyth, an American air hostess of Irish parentage. Naturally gregarious, he was nonetheless often described as reserved and solitary, and refrained from drinking and late-night socialising, reflecting affectations deigned to preserve his mystique.
In 1968 he settled with his second family in Dublin where he rented a large house at Raheny and founded the grandly titled Institute of Applied Psychology. He opened a clinic in 1969 in partnership with businessman Sean Spencer (otherwise John J. Higgins), specialising in curing obesity. After quarrelling with Spencer over money in 1970, Goldin forced him out of the business, but not before embarrassing legal proceedings in which Spencer accused him of misappropriating funds, of being wanted abroad for perpetrating swindles, and of intending to abscond after disposing of the clinic's assets. Central to this dispute was the company manager, Mrs Maeve O'Brien, with whom Goldin was having an affair and who was receiving what Spencer regarded as an excessive salary.
While staying with his wife and her family in America that October, Goldin walked out and returned to Ireland to live with O'Brien before embarking on a series of sell-out shows in the Cork region at the start of 1971. On 24 January he collapsed theatrically at the end of a performance at the Cork city hall, subsequently disappearing from public view. O'Brien also disappeared with her four children, and it emerged that they and Goldin had removed to America; arrest warrants were issued in Ireland for O'Brien and also for Goldin on foot of allegations by his wife of child abandonment and neglect. The fugitive couple married in Las Vegas that June.
On 1 January 1972 Goldin was arrested upon arrival in Dublin Airport and remanded on bail, but no further criminal action was taken and the newlyweds eventually returned the O'Brien children to their Dublin boarding school. Maintaining a low profile, Goldin moved to Kinsale, Co. Cork, and toured his act as Ronald Gold, an unfamiliar name that failed to stimulate public interest. These shows flopped, the ensuing financial difficulties being compounded by marital ones. After he left his wife in May 1972 and vanished abroad, she declared publicly that he was anti-Irish and regarded his fans contemptuously, echoing claims made by Spencer. The couple subsequently reconciled, had a daughter in 1975 and resided in Bournemouth, England, before the relationship disintegrated irrevocably.
His career rejuvenated by the notoriety incurred during 1970–72, he resumed on Ireland's cabaret circuit, also holding once-off group therapy sessions for those wishing to quit smoking. In Britain, however, longstanding criticisms directed at Goldin by psychiatrists and doctors peaked in the late 1970s as experts warned that his hypnotic suggestions were liable to persist in depressed, neurotic or chronically anxious individuals. His ruse of hypnotising married women and prompting them to confess adulteries on stage also proved contentious.
Having worn out his welcome in Britain, he concentrated on Ireland, especially after hiring a Cork woman, Helen Breen, as his agent in 1980. Despite a considerable age gap, they married in February 1983, settling in Dublin and having a daughter in 1984. His businesses continued to founder, most spectacularly an attempt in the early 1980s to run student flights to the USA; he lost all his capital and was fined $500,000 by the US authorities for breaching aircraft leasing regulations.
From 1982 he made renewed efforts to reinvent himself as a behavioural and lifestyle guru, establishing the Stress and Phobia Centre, later the Paul Goldin Clinic, offering hypnotic treatments for a variety of problems such as smoking, stammering, obesity, depression, drug addiction, insomnia, phobias, stress and sexual difficulties, also engaging in mind coaching for examination candidates and sporting figures. He ran the courses while Helen handled administration, ensuring that the clinic was run more professionally than his previous concerns. To his neighbours' displeasure, he operated his clinic successively from residential parts of Blackrock and Monkstown, both Co. Dublin, before moving in 1991 to a luxurious and secluded clinic-residence at Old Conna Lodge near Bray, Co. Wicklow. The clinic later separated from his home, relocating to Dún Laoghaire, Co. Dublin.
As the business prospered he retired from stage hypnosis in 1984, but appeared regularly in the media, dripping in oleaginous, faux sincerity, to condemn doctors for their readiness to prescribe medication and to defend hypnotherapists in general and himself in particular from accusations of charlatanism. Prominently featuring a towering portrait of its founder, the clinic reminded some observers of a religious cult. Certainly, his fame and charisma were crucial to its success, and his glamorous social circle supplied a succession of well-known clients such as entertainer Adele King ('Twink'), the novelist Cecelia Ahern, and retired boxer Steve Collins.
If nothing else, he provided his prestige patients with entertaining and intuitively empathic company, but most customers were subjected to high-pressure sales tactics and to generic treatments consisting mainly of repetitive suggestion delivered subliminally by audio recordings. One such, inaugurated in 1986 for stammering, seemingly imitated without acknowledgement methods developed elsewhere, and in many instances effected only a temporary cure. Discovering the worthlessness of Goldin's money-back pledge, aggrieved customers resorted to legal action in 1988, winning an out-of-court settlement.
By the early 1990s the clinic had developed a loyal client base, and from 2000 he reduced his involvement, latterly being consulted on and participating in various TV3 lifestyle programmes. A stage comeback in 1992 was curtailed when he was injured in a car crash, sustaining neck injuries that left him prone to dizziness and incapable of performing. He died in the Blackrock Clinic, Co. Dublin, on 13 February 2008 after contracting pneumonia while being treated for a kidney problem. Following a Jewish funeral service attended by assorted high-profile mourners at the Unitarian church on St Stephen's Green, Dublin, his remains were cremated at Mount Jerome cemetery.
Perhaps indicating prodigality and three failed marriages, he left only €27,754 in his will. His youngest child, Katie Jane, took over the clinic, assisted by her mother. Of his other children, David, from his first marriage, established a world-renowned hair extension company in Rome; Ricky, from his second, was a child and then adult actor, appearing in American television soap operas and Broadway musicals.