Annette Goodheart: 1935-2011

The world has lost a brilliant laugher, an adventurer, artist, and remarkably empathetic human being.

Annette Goodheart earned an international reputation as a laughter therapist, lecturer, and author of the book Laughter Therapy: How to Laugh About Everything in Your Life That Isn’t Really Funny. She worked with people struggling with cancer, AIDS, MS, Parkinson’s, eating disorders, sexual and physical abuse, marriage crises, alcoholism, and drug addiction, as well as the day-to-day emotional challenges common to the human condition. Regardless of the cause of the distress, Annette found that laughter — a cathartic process that helps rebalance the chemistry of emotions — could be a keystone for healing.

She helped people understand the power of laughter that doesn’t ridicule, and created a framework that wove together physiology, psychology, and historical, literary, and cultural references. Annette taught laughter classes (beginning and advanced) for Adult Education at Santa Barbara City College for 10 years, and credits these students with helping her develop and refine her theories about why laughter helps us and how we can do more of it.

Annette Goodheart
Courtesy Photo

Annette’s work took her all over the United States and the world. She spoke to and laughed with corporate employees, police officers, church congregations, government workers, nurses, doctors, educators, judges, and fellow psychologists. Her presentations in Canada, Europe, Australia, and Asia proved that while humor is cultural, laughter is a universal language.

Annette was always looking for a box to think outside of and liked nothing better than to tweak traditional wisdom and seriousness. She was independent and self-sufficient but relished the deep connections she made with the people she helped. While her life followed the customary path to some extent (college, marriage, three children), she was intrinsically unconventional.

Laughter was her second career. Before she began her groundbreaking work into something everyone can do, Annette was an artist of rare talent.

The youngest of three children, Annette was born on January 1, 1935, in Artesia, California, to Edmund and Helen Goodheart. Her artistic ability revealed itself early on, and she landed her first commission at age 13. After graduating from the University of Colorado (Boulder) with a bachelor’s degree in fine arts in 1955, Annette and her husband, Max Epstein, moved to Ames, Iowa. Max worked with foreign students at Iowa State University, and Annette taught art classes and was one of two abstract painters in the state.

In 1963, Max accepted a position with UCSB, and the family moved with little regret from Ames to Santa Barbara. Annette returned to school, earning a master of fine arts from UCSB. She was a staff and faculty member at UCSB, Santa Barbara City College, and the Santa Barbara Museum of Art. As a teacher, Annette came at art history and studio classes like she did everything else: She broke the rules. She created projects that involved earthworks at the beach, and packaging the classroom with paper and string. She invited students to her home for “soup kitchen” grading parties.

During her career as an artist, Annette had seven one-woman shows and exhibited in more than 25 regional and multistate competitions. Her oils, acrylics, and watercolors were inspired by everything around her, including people she knew, oil derricks off the coast of Santa Barbara, what she saw through a microscope, and cave paintings in France.

Following her divorce, Annette became involved with the Reevaluation Co-Counseling movement and discovered her gift for empathy. She decided making art was too lonely, so she got a master of arts in psychology (Antioch), began her private practice in 1979, and earned a PhD from Sierra University in 1985. While gathering her degrees, Annette lived on a sailboat (the TeeHee) in the Santa Barbara Harbor and became a scuba diver and an avid motorcyclist (no mean feat, given her inability to touch the ground on both sides). She was also arrested for nude sunbathing in Summerland.

In 2005, at the age of 70, Annette decided she wanted one last grand adventure. She left Santa Barbara for San Miguel de Allende, Mexico, where she created yet another circle of friends, learned to speak Spanish, and painted her house an astonishing combination of colors. She died in Mexico on July 18, 2011, of cancer, her daughter by her side. Not knowing that a consulate seal was required, her sons smuggled her ashes across the border. Her children agreed that had they been confiscated as contraband, Annette would’ve laughed.

Annette is survived by her brother, Clyde Goodheart; daughter, Laura Epstein Scully; sons David Epstein and Steve Epstein; granddaughters Ellen, Alexandra, Olivia, and Melissa; grandson, Max; and all the people for whom her generous heart, keen intellect, and boisterous laughter made a difference.

An unconventional memorial service will be held on January 1 (Annette’s birthday), 2012, at 2 p.m., at the Maritime Museum, 113 Harbor Way, #190, in the Santa Barbara harbor. In lieu of flowers, donations may be directed to the A. Goodheart Fund to support art and music programs for homeless children at Transition House (425 E. Cota St., Santa Barbara, CA 93101), or to the Maritime Museum. To RSVP for the service, please email Steve Epstein at


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