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Tuesday, July 26, 2016

As with all of her ilk, she didn't predict this.

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TMZ is reporting the death, at 53, of the once ubiquitous late night TV star, Miss Cleo. Ree Perris, LaShawnda Williams, Corvette Mama, Elenore St. Julian, Desiree Canterlaw, Janet Snyder, Maria Delcampo, Christina Garcia, Youree Cleomili, Youree Dell Harris, Youree Perris, Rae Dell Harris, Cleomili Perris Youree, Cleomili Harris, or whatever else she has called herself, cut a swathe through Seattle, where I was then living- first as a playwright who didn’t pay her production crew and actors, then in her greatest role: the Tarot Queen of Late Night TV from 1997 to 2003.

Miss Cleo is reported to have died of cancer but, given her record of cancer scams, the report of her death may be greatly exaggerated.

The Psychic Readers Network is said to have coined the title "Miss Cleo" and sent unsolicited emails, some of which stated, "[Miss Cleo has] been authorized to issue you a Special Tarot Reading!... it is vital that you call immediately!" Charges of deceptive advertising and of fraud on the part of the Psychic Readers Network began to surface; consumer protection suits flowered in many states, and Miss Cleo, though not indicted, was shut down along with the business.

The per-minute charges for phone consultations made PRN a fortune (the average call billed $60 to the caller, generating a billion dollars in sales), which they plowed back into advertising. They spent $100 million to promote Miss Cleo, making her a star and the subject of SNL, Mad TV and Dave Chappelle parodies for years. She appeared on Jenny Jones and other daytime talk shows. Cleo estimated she made $450,000 from the gig.

Six feet tall barefoot, Miss Cleo began as an operator for the service but quickly rose to become its flagship spokesinvention.

In 1999, Court TV began investigating Miss Cleo’s operations, and found most of her assistant phone psychics were paid $12 and hour and were hired from newspaper ads. Her Los Angeles birth certificate put paid to her claims of being a Jamaican psychic.

She later voiced the character Auntie Poulet in Grand Theft Auto: Vice City, the video game, and in PlayStation’s MTV Celebrity Death Match (“I love it! I gave my permission. I have a copy and tell my kids, ‘Whenever you get pissed at me, play the game.’ And if I get angry at myself, I play myself”).

In 2005 she resurrected Miss Cleo in a series of TV ads for a Miami-area used car dealer.

In 2006 she reinvented herself, coming out to The Advocate magazine as a lesbian. While admitting she was no psychic, she said she had segued into a more spiritual advisory sort of role:

“I’m more a shaman, an elder in a community who has visions and gives direction to people in their village. My clients and my students are my village. I take care of this community. If you sit down at my table, you have to take away a lesson and not just learn what is going to happen tomorrow. I also perform weddings — both gay and straight marriages — and house cleansings and blessings.”

She moved to the Lake Worth, Florida area in 2007, the Palm Beach Sun-Sentinel reports, and The Advocate, when it followed up a year after she came out, reported,

Miss Cleo (née Youree Dell Cleomili Harris) tells it likes she sees it on her new CD, a collection of politically charged poetry inspired by spoken word performer–activist Gil Scott-Heron. After her publicist postponed our interview due to an inauspicious date — “Cleo practices Egyptian numerology, and the number 6 does not bode well for clear communication” — the controversial former queen of late-night infomercial psychics shed some light on past love affairs and gave both Bush and Britney a free reading.

She also dusted off her long-past gifts of prophecy for the 2008 election:

Indulge me with one prediction: Who will be the next president of the United States?

This one won't make me popular either, but Osama — I mean, Obama? — it's not going to happen. I love the young man, he's brilliant, but I don't think his time has come. I also don't think that the world is ready for a woman to run this country. So it will be a Republican again, and my money is on Giuliani. He's not perfect, and he has some conservative ideas, but he does have some liberal ideas, and he's liked by a significant amount of Independents and Democrats.

I sure hope we prove you wrong.

You know what? Me too. Because I think Hillary would do this country a lot of good. Make sure you put that Miss Cleo wants to be wrong on this one!

In 2009, when she spoke to The Spokane Spokesman-Review, Miss Cleo still had the Jamaican accent so uncommon among American-born Angelenos, had a radio show, and described herself as a “voodoo priestess” who got $75 to $250 per reading. She claimed nine siblings, several of whom had the gift of sight”, and two grown daughters by a gay man who died of AIDS. Two same-sex relationships ended in acrimony.

One friend reported, “Occasionally..., she gets an e-mail Cleo sends to friends and clients, reminding them when dangers lurk in the cosmos – and that they should get their oil and tires checked.”

In 2014, General Mills hired her as a pitchwoman for the revival of its French Toast Crunch Cereal, citing her appeal to millennials who grew up with her TV presence. In a press release, General Mills said Miss Cleo would be featured in a series of online videos "in which she amazes callers with her confident prediction that they will be filling their bowls with the celebrated cereal."

"You don't have to be a psychic to know that French Toast Crunch is flying off the shelves once again," McCann Worldwide Group, the advertising agency, wrote in a recent contest entry for its campaign, according to the lawsuit filed by Psychic Readers.

Psychic Readers Network sprang back to life with a federal court lawsuit claiming copyright violation. General Mills withdrew its ads on social media.

Miss Cleo was a favorite subject of David Schmader, who wrote the brilliant “Last Days” colym for Seattle's The Stranger from 1999 to 2015. As a farewell to a brilliant con artist, a few of his memories:


MONDAY, DECEMBER 11 We begin our commercial edition by paying tribute to the ads that have captured the heart and mind not only of Last Days, but of the world at large: the psychic hotline of Miss Cleo. For those of you out of the loop, Miss Cleo is the boisterous, charismatic, occasionally Jamaican tarot card reader whose commercials air every six seconds on cable television. Blending the best of Oprah and Maya (with a pinch of Tituba), Miss Cleo's early ads got by on our lady's ease, vivacity, and brilliant charm as she used "the power of the tarot" to foresee romantic disaster and divine the hidden secrets of her phone-in clientele. Since then, Cleo's commercials have exploded into New Age extravaganzas, dripping with candles, smoking incense, and increasingly elaborate headgear for the increasingly "native" Miss Cleo: The first ad's response of "I knew there was a secret!" has evolved into the new ad's "That's what me thought!" (At the rate she's going, Miss Cleo's next ad will feature her at a boiling cauldron with a bone through her nose.) Still, Miss Cleo's charm is undeniable, and the Green Party--or the freaking Dems--would be wise to consider her as a vice-presidential candidate for 2004.


WEDNESDAY, AUGUST 8 The humiliations continue for beloved television psychic Miss Cleo. Today the St. Louis City Circuit Court ordered Access Resources Services Inc.--promoters of Miss Cleo's tarot psychic hotline--to pay a $75,000 fine for violating Missouri's no-call law. According to the Associated Press, Missouri law allows residents to sign up on a list that bars telemarketers from calling; today's ruling punished Access Resources Services for an alleged 94 violations of this law.

In other Cleo news: Last Days has been informed by more than one Hot Tipper that the divine Miss C is indeed an actress--with Northwest roots! It seems that in 1996 and 1997, Miss Cleo (using the name "Ree Perris") wrote, directed and acted in three plays at Seattle's Langston Hughes Cultural Arts Center! Can this be true?! If so, please--come back to the Langston Hughes, Miss Cleo, Miss Cleo!



Speaking of twisted freaks: Miss Cleo's getting busted by the Feds! Describing the faux-Jamaican's psychic hotline as "permeated with fraud," the Federal Trade Commission has filed a lawsuit accusing the service of "rampant deception," and announced its desire to shut down both Access Resource Services Inc. and Psychic Readers Network, the two Fort Lauderdale companies behind Miss Cleo's psychic stranglehold on the nation. This is hardly the Cleo corporation's first brush with the law: The Associated Press reports that no less than eight states have sued Cleo's parent companies for a variety of misdeeds, including false promises of free psychic readings, tricky billing tactics, and unrelenting and abusive telemarketing calls. (Last Days' favorite: The automated messages informing former callers--sometimes 10 times a day--that Miss Cleo had a dream about them and they should "call right away!") The Feds aren't the only ones itching to bring Miss Cleo down: Florida authorities are pursuing a separate lawsuit against Miss Cleo herself, challenging Cleo (a.k.a. Youree Dell Harris) to prove that she really is a renowned shaman from Jamaica. Considering that Ms. Harris, a once-local actress who performed at a variety of Seattle theaters in the 1990s, is about as Jamaican as Greg Nickels, Miss Cleo and her parent companies better ditch the power of the tarot for the power of the high-priced attorney.


As faithful readers know, few things make Last Days happier than the ongoing saga of the faux-Jamaican TV psychic Miss Cleo. Well, today we were escorted to Miss Cleo heaven by D. Parvaz, the Seattle P-I writer whose juicy Cleo exposé dished some deep, rich dirt on the actress/playwright, who left Seattle "with a trail of debts and broken promises." Delving deeper into Cleo's Northwest connections than any writer before her, Parvaz paints a portrait of a con artist extraordinaire, a woman with more pseudonyms than Satan (from Ree Perris to Cleomili Perris Youree) who deceived, robbed, and exploited others by feigning such sympathy-inducing illnesses as bone cancer and sickle cell anemia. In Seattle, Perris/Youree/Cleo's exploits seem to have been centered around the Langston Hughes Cultural Arts Center, which hired the extremely non-Jamaican Los Angeles native to write and produce three plays in 1997 (including one in which the actress played a Jamaican woman named Cleo). Parvaz reports that Ree Perris received a budget to pay the cast and crew of her plays, but only a few people were even partially paid, instead receiving promises of future payment after Perris took care of the medical expenses incurred because of her bone cancer. When Ree Perris fled Seattle with her debts unpaid, the Langston Hughes Center declined to press charges, but thankfully the Feds picked up where Seattle left off, charging the shifty shaman with fraud last week. (Confidential to Miss Cleo: You'd better start making some deals with whatever God you're pretending to worship this month, because your soul is dirtier than the bathrooms at Graceland.)

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