TV Psychic 'Miss Cleo' Dead At 53
Legendary television psychic Miss Cleo (real name: Youree Dell Harris) is dead from cancer at 53, reports TMZ. Anyone who watched television in the in the late '90s and early aughts was likely familiar with Miss Cleo—and the prolific infomercials that made Harris the most famous telephone psychic in America.
Although Harris proclaimed herself to be a "Jamaican shaman" and spoke in a vaguely Caribbean patois, the tarot-card-dealing psychic was actually born in Los Angeles on August 12, 1962 to American parents. She attended the preppy all-girl Ramona Convent Secondary School in Alhambra as a teenager, according to People.
The character of Miss Cleo first emerged in a 1996 play that Harris (then known as Ree Perris, one of several aliases) wrote and starred in Seattle, according to a 2002 Seattle Post-Intelligencer article. A former castmate told the Post-Intelligencer that Harris "had no Jamaican accent [at the time]—she was born and raised in L.A."
Although Harris claimed to have had her first psychic experience at 14, she entered the field professionally after moving to Florida in 1998, where she "began working as a tarot-reading psychic for a so-called 'bookstore'—a telemarketing center to which calls are routed from different numbers around the country," according to People.
Her time as the face of a psychic empire was embattled, with myriad lawsuits filed against Access Resources Services Inc. and Psychic Readers Network, the two companies that Miss Cleo worked with. The lawsuits began in 1999, according to Slate, and reached a fever pitch in 2002, as negative press coverage also piled up, along with a federal investigation into Harris. In November of 2002, the two companies agreed to forgive $500 million in customer bills and stop selling their telephone psychic services in order to settle a federal lawsuit that accused them of fleecing Miss Cleo's callers, according to The New York Times. As People explained in 2003:
According to the Federal Trade Commission, callers expecting a free tarot reading were routinely directed to a second number that billed their accounts, sometimes for hundreds of dollars per call. In some cases the company billed people who had never called at all, then aggressively tried to collect the alleged debt.
Harris was also personally charged by the Florida attorney general's office, though those charges were later dropped.
We will miss you, Miss Cleo. Does anyone have L.A. memories of her from her early days? Please share them with us at firstname.lastname@example.org.