Infomercial personality Miss Cleo, who once implored millions of television viewers during the 90s to call her for “a free psychic reading,” has passed away after a battle with cancer. She was 53-years-old.
TMZ is reporting that the famed Cleo, born Youree Dell Harris, was only recently hospitalized for the malady, but ultimately was transferred to a hospice care facility in Palm Beach County, Florida, to live out her final days. She was said to have been diagnosed with colon cancer, which went on to metastasize in her liver and lungs. Despite her illness and its progression, however, a representative for Cleo claimed that she was a “pillar of strength” throughout the battle, and that she died surrounded by those who loved and cared for her.
— Us Weekly (@usweekly) July 26, 2016
Born in Los Angeles, Cleo, who went by several aliases, including Youree Perris and Cleotine Harris, claimed that although her infamous Jamaican patois was faked for entertainment purposes, her “psychic” abilities — which were purposefully mislabeled by the Psychic Readings Network — had been instilled in her since birth.
“I come from a family of Obeah, which is another word for voodoo,” she explained to Vice in 2014. “My teacher was Haitian, [a mambo] born in Port-au-Prince, and I studied under her for some 30 years and then became a mambo myself. So they refer to me as [a] ‘psychic,’ because the word ‘voodoo’ scares just about everybody. So they told me, ‘No, no, no, we can’t use that word. We’re going to call you a psychic.'”
The PRN was ultimately sued by the FCC in 2002 for deceptive business practices, which included deceiving desperate phone callers with promises of “free readings” that they were unknowingly charged for. Most would go on to sue Cleo for being a part of the fraud, despite the fact that she was nothing more than a glorified employee.
“According to some articles, I’m still in jail,” Cleo stated. “I never went to jail [because] I didn’t own the company. It’s taken [me] ten years to move through all of that, so it hurts for people to go around and be able to tell a lie to the point where it becomes fact on [the internet]. Most people were making 14 cents a minute doing the calls, [but] I was on the high side of the equation, making 24 cents a minute.”
Although her days as a television psychic had long since passed, Cleo has turned up in more current headlines on occasion. In 2006, following her godson’s admission of his homosexuality, she followed suit publicly through the Advocate by revealing that she was a lesbian.
— The Advocate (@TheAdvocateMag) July 26, 2016
“[My godson] and I started talking [about how] he was concerned about coming out,” she shared. “He was 16. When he made the decision [to do so], I told him I’d be there to support him 100 percent. It’s a different vibe than when I was his age, being raised Catholic in an all-girls boarding school. But he was afraid of nothing, and I thought, I can’t be a hypocrite. This boy is going to force me to put my money where my mouth is.”
Following her work with the Psychic Readers Network, Cleo loaned her memorable voice to the video game, Grand Theft Auto: Vice City for the character of Auntie Poulet (she was credited as Youree Cleomil Harris). She also appeared in a 2014 documentary, Hotline, which focused on the personal and intense connections between phone workers, such as herself, and customers.
And yes, in case anyone was wondering, she continued to performed spiritual readings to all who came looking for her services; albeit, non-free ones.
“My clients are international, sweetie,” she said during the Vice interview. “I have clients in New Zealand, Australia, a few here in Toronto, a bunch all over the US, Jamaica, obviously. Honey, that’s how I make my money. I’ve got kids and grandchildren. I like being able to help.”
[Photo from Madame Noire/Twitter]