The world has lost a brilliant laugher, 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, Goodheart found that laughter — a cathartic process that helps rebalance the chemistry of emotions — could be a keystone for healing.

Annette Goodheart

Annette Goodheart

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. She taught laughter classes (beginning and advanced) for Adult Education at Santa Barbara City College for 10 years, and credits the students with helping her develop and refine her theories about why laughter helps us and how we can do more of it.

Her laughter work took her across the United States and all over the world. Goodheart spoke to and laughed with a wide variety of audiences, including corporate employees, police officers, church congregations, government workers, nurses, doctors, educators, judges and fellow psychologists. She made presentations in Canada, Europe, Australia and Asia — proving that while humor is cultural, laughter is a universal language.

Goodheart was always looking for a box to think outside of. She 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 some of her life followed the customary path (college, marriage, three children), she was intrinsically unconventional. And laughter was her second career. Before she began her groundbreaking work into something everyone can do, Goodheart was an artist of rare talent.

She was born on Jan. 1, 1935, in Artesia, Calif., to Edmund and Helen Goodheart, the youngest of three children. 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, Goodheart and her husband, Max Epstein, moved to Ames, Iowa. He worked with foreign students at Iowa State University, and Goodheart taught art classes and was one of two abstract painters in the state.

In 1963, Epstein accepted a position with UCSB and the family moved with little regret from Ames to Santa Barbara. Goodheart returned to school, earning a master’s degree in fine arts from UCSB. She was a staff and faculty member at UCSB, SBCC and the Santa Barbara Museum of Art. As a teacher, she 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, and invited students to her home for “soup kitchen” grading parties.

During her career as an artist, Goodheart had seven one-woman shows and she exhibited in more than 25 multistate and local competitions. She painted in oil, acrylic and watercolor. She was inspired by everything around her, including the people she knew, the oil derricks off the coast of Santa Barbara, what she saw through a microscope and cave paintings in France.

After her divorce, Goodheart became involved with the re-evaluation co-counseling movement and discovered her gift for empathy. She decided that making art was too lonely, so she got a master’s degree in psychology from Antioch University Santa Barbara, began her private practice in 1979 and earned a Ph.D. from La Sierra University in 1985. While gathering her degrees, Goodheart lived on a sailboat (the “TeeHee”) in the Santa Barbara Harbor, and became an avid motorcyclist (no mean feat, given her inability to touch the ground on both sides) and a scuba diver. She was also arrested for nude sunbathing in Summerland.

In 2005, at age 70, Goodheart 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, Goodheart would’ve laughed.

She is survived by her brother, Clyde Goodheart, her 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 at 2 p.m. Jan. 1 (Goodheart’s birthday) at the Santa Barbara Maritime Museum, 113 Harbor Way, No. 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