A popular TV icon, Miss Cleo, is dead. If you grew up in the 1990’s, you probably remember the famous “Miss Cleo” advertisements. Miss Cleo lost her battle with colon cancer this week, and Twitter started trending #MissCleo upon news of her death. Miss Cleo hadn’t been in the news recently but had a long and interesting career.
Back in the 1990’s and even the early 2000’s, TV psychics were big business. Besides Dionne Warwick’s Psychic Friends network, there was also the Psychic Readers Network. Harris took on the persona of Cleo, a shaman from Jamaica. Her employers added the “Miss” to the name, and the psychic service took off, with Miss Cleo becoming a household name! In the advertisements, Miss Cleo would sit in front of a mystical looking background or plants looking keenly into the camera as she professed to know all of your secrets.
Who was Miss Cleo?
The name “Miss Cleo” was actually an alias, as you probably assumed, as her real name was Youree Dell Harris, though she also went by LaShawnda Williams, Corvette Mama, Elenore St. Julian, Desiree Canterlaw, Janet Snyder, Maria Delcampo, Christina Garcia, Cleomili Harris, and Youree Perris, according to later reports about her deceptive practices. She was born in Los Angeles, not Jamaica, as her employers had claimed.
She had reportedly mismanaged funds with a play production in Seattle, and took on the alias Cleo, a character from her play. In 1997, she first appeared as Miss Cleo and helped the Psychic Readers Network make millions – actually, billions! When business was good, it was good for Miss Cleo and her employers. Miss Cleo even appeared on merchandise such as a package with an instrumental video and a deck of Tarot cards, known as “Miss Cleo’s Tarot Power.” However, the ride couldn’t last as the company was the subject of multiple complaints and fraud reports as they advertised “free” calls that people were actually charged for; in 2002, they “forgave” $500 million in uncollected fees to satisfy the FTC – the company was also charged a $5 million fine by the feds.
Miss Cleo pretty much faded from the public spotlight in the wake of all of the legal investigations, and popped up in an Orlando-area car commercial and the video game Grand Theft Auto: Vice City, where she voiced a minor character. In 2014, she had a podcast called Conversations with Cleo but it ended so she could work on her book, Conversations with Cleo, which was published in 2014. She was featured in a movie, Hotline, now available on Amazon’s Daring Docs subscription, but the footage was minimal. The actress also came out as a lesbian in 2006 in a surprising interview with The Advocate, and Food company General Mills tried to use the character of Miss Cleo in an advertising campaign in 2015, where the character “saw” that cereal fans would soon be eating French Toast crunch, however, Psychic Readers Network sued and the commercial was pulled.
She died Tuesday in Palm Beach, Florida this week surrounding by family and friends, according a statement made by her attorney.