News sources confirm that Youree Harris, better known as Miss Cleo, is dead at the age of 53. She had recently entered a Florida hospice to spend her remaining days after a diagnosis of colon cancer spread to her lungs.
It was impossible to miss her if you lived through the 90s. Miss Cleo’s television commercials were everywhere, especially the nascent cable channels that have become powerhouses today.
Things were different back then. There was an amazing convergence of technology. Computerized databases and credit card fulfillment aligned with the the 800 phone service. The trio was an unstoppable tool for the companies behind the creation of Miss Cleo and others.
The medium – and I’m not talking about our dearly departed psychic, Miss Cleo – was cable television. It provided a huge bank of unsold airtime that was reaching a rapidly growing audience. Infomercials gobbled up the advertising space, and the attention of cable viewers.
Infomercial fortunes were made. Some by fortune tellers. The Psychic Friends Network, hosted by Dionne Warwick became a $100 million-plus business for Inphomation Inc. At the peak of its popularity, the Psychic Readers Network generated $25 million a month.
The irony is that neither Miss Cleo nor Dionne Warwick had the prescience to predict their demise. Dionne Warwick should have seen it coming, anyway. It wasn’t her first time at the psychic rodeo. In the late 70s, she added an “e” to her last name on the advice of a psychic, who told her it would boost her singing career. That didn’t work out either.
But it was good for a while. The Psychic Friends Network paid Dionne Warwick $3 million a year. Miss Cleo wasn’t paid as much, but she did manage to amass a net worth of about $1 million.
Then Inphomation Inc.. declared bankruptcy. The Federal Trade Commission shut down the Psychic Readers Network in 2002, claiming it defrauded customers. The network was forced to pay $500 million back to consumers. Miss Cleo was not indicted.
The psychic divas both tried to reinvent themselves after they were cast out of the infomercial business.
Dionne Warwick wrote a couple of books for children and a best-selling autobiography. Miss Cleo became an activist for the LGBT community after coming out herself as a lesbian. Ms Warwick toured and created a fragrance. Miss Cleo became the voice of Auntie Poulet in the video game Grand Theft Auto: Vice City.
What happened to all that money?
Dionne Warwick declared bankruptcy in 2013. According to her filing, she was down to her last two fur coats and two pairs of diamond earrings, collectively worth $13,000. And there also was a wardrobe of “gowns and everyday clothing” valued at $5,000.
Vice caught up with Miss Cleo in in the spring of 2014. She decided to set the record straight about the supposed fortune she made from the Psychic Readers network. “For the first 30-minute infomercial I did for them, I made $1,750 for the two and a half days on set,” Miss Cleo told Vice. “I had a bad contract. But everybody else thought I had more money than God, and my response to that usually was, “Well, God is a poor son of a bitch.”
Rich or poor, Miss Cleo was for a time an unforgettable face in the history of popular culture. Aloha oe, Miss Cleo.
So sayeth the StickMonkey.