(Psychic Readers Network)
By Mark Shrayber
Miss Cleo, the embattled telephone psychic famous for turning the phrase “call me now for your free reading!” into a cultural meme, has died at 53 after a battle with cancer.
According to TMZ, which has confirmed with Cleo’s rep, the clairvoyant, entrepreneur, and actress — if you didn’t know, her accent was fake — died on Tuesday after fighting colon cancer that tragically spread to both her liver and her lungs. The rep told TMZ that Youree Dell Cleomili Harris (Cleo’s real name) was a “pillar of strength” until her untimely death and passed while in the presence of those who knew and loved her.
While Miss Cleo will be fondly remembered by anyone who has ever seen one of her commercials, Harris’ life became increasingly difficult in 2002, when the FTC filed a complaint against the company the psychic worked for — The Psychic Readers Network — for unethical business practices (including the fact that all those free readings Miss Cleo offered were never really free). While she was later dropped from the suit, Harris never regained her footing in the cutthroat world of psychic healing and quickly dropped out of the limelight.
Cleo Harris (Credit: Lilly Echeverria/Getty Images)
In 2006, Harris made headlines by coming out as a lesbian in The Advocate, telling the publication that she made the difficult decision to go public when her godson came to her when struggling with his own coming out:
“He and I started talking when he was concerned about coming out. He was 16. When he made the decision I told him I’d be there to support him 100%, and he embraced [coming out] wholeheartedly,” Harris says. “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.”
In an interview with Vice in 2014, Harris revealed that she really was psychic, that she’d never been in jail, and that while others on the hotline may have been making “14 cents a minute,” she’d barely made more, telling the interviewer that her cut was “24 cents.” She also discussed the struggles she faced in the court of public opinion, including conflict with members of the Jamaican community, who railed against her for being a “bad representative”:
According to some articles, I’m still in jail. I never went to jail; I didn’t own the company. It’s taken ten years for me to move through all of that, because in the Jamaican culture—especially with the way my father was—all you have is your word. So it hurts for people to go around and be able to tell a lie to the point where it becomes fact on a [computer] box. So I struggle with it.
Harris will undoubtedly be missed. If you’re feeling nostalgic, you can check her out in Grand Theft Auto: Vice City, watch her discuss the reality of the phone psychic business in the 2014 documentary Hotline, or light some incense in her memory and relive all that time you spent watching her commercials on late night TV, where her voice was enough to put anyone into a trance that made you forget what you were doing and really think about getting that free reading and your life in order.