The TV Psychic Miss Cleo, Youree Dell Harris, Dies at 53
The cause was cancer, William J. Cone Jr., a lawyer for Ms. Harris, said in a statement.
As a vividly colored background swirled or candles burned, Miss Cleo sat and provided advice to often-sheepish callers. Many of the advertisements followed an adulterous-lover theme:
“Who requested one to go out of the ignorant youthful one town or the wedded one?” a caller was requested by her in a single commercial.
“The one that was married, the caller that was ” answered.
“That’s what me thought,” Miss Cleo said with a knowing nod.
The advertisements made her a star of the Psychic Readers Network. The Miss Cleo character also inspired spoofs on late night TV and gave Ms. Harris other business opportunities, including a book, “Keepin’ It Real: A Practical Guide for Spiritual Living.”
But her celebrity led to questions about her past. In 2002, The Seattle Post-Intelligencer published an investigation that revealed she had a record of aliases along with a longer list of former colleagues on the neighborhood theatre scene who said they had been cheated out of cash and challenged her Jamaican background.
“she’d no Jamaican emphasis — she was born and raised in L.A.,” a former cast mate told the paper. Information on her survivors was not immediately available.
In 2002, Access Resource Services and the Psychic Readers Network were the subject of a national lawsuit that ordered the companies to forgive $500 million in customer fees. The networks agreed to avoid selling their services over the telephone, and, according to the Federal Trade Commission, the firms agreed to pay a $5 million fine.
Miss Cleo remained an object of cultural interest, though the commercials eventually faded. In 2006, she came out as a lesbian in an interview with The Advocate, but also took the opportunity to handle her enduring popularity.
“Folks give me crazy love, sweetheart,” she said. “ They’ll say: ‘Do you see anything? Where do we locate you? When are you currently coming back? We miss you.’ I get lots of love.”
Tony Shaff, who worked as a psychic reader on Ms. Cleo’s hotline for about six weeks in 2001 and interviewed her for “Hotline,” his 2014 documentary about telephone relationships between strangers, said that although she was not charged with a crime, she was hurt that her reputation had been harmed by the suit.
In an interview for “Hotline,” Miss Cleo’s as she broke into tears, Jamaican accent stayed. “Those individuals will not be the bad guys, even though they weren’t amazing psychics she said of herself and made between 12 and 24 cents a minute.
Mr. Shaff, 38, said that Miss Cleo understood that he wasn’t a true psychic during his time with the network, but would not comment on whether he thought she was one.
“I think a great deal of men and women merely view psychics generally as swindlers,” Mr. Shaff said, “but she did not view herself as that.”