TV psychic pitchwoman Miss Cleo dies in South Florida

Miss Cleo gives out a reading in Hollywood 2003.
Miss Cleo gives out a reading in Hollywood 2003. Miami Herald File

Miss Cleo, the late-night TV pitchwoman for psychic services on the telephone, died Tuesday in South Florida.

Her real name was Youree Harris, and she was a cultural touchstone from the 1990s through the early 2000s. Harris died of cancer in Palm Beach County Tuesday, TMZ reported, at age 53.

With Miss Cleo’s Afrocentric attire and Jamaican accent, her commercials for Psychic Readers Network hustling 1-900 telephone readings became camp entertainment to some. To those searching for supernatural answers to love or money questions, the late-night advertising spots proved more alluring than astrology or a Magic 8-Ball.

In the late 2000s, Miss Cleo moved from Davie to Lake Worth, came out as a lesbian and became involved with several South Florida LGBT pride groups.

Harris told in 2014 that her supernatural talents and Jamaican background were real as was the accent — her Jamaican parents taught her to squash the patois, she said.

But she was playing a personality owned by a company. The “Miss Cleo” character was the property of Access Resource Services, based in Fort Lauderdale.

Miss Cleo’s time as an A-list cultural reference ended in 2002 when the Federal Trade Commission charged Access and the Psychic Readers Network with, among other illegal business practices, billing people $4.99 a minute for initial calls advertised as being free. The companies agreed to cancel $500 million in customers bills in that case alone.

Lawsuits for similar violations sprouted around the country at the state level. For a time, the Florida state attorney’s office sued Harris, too, for deceptive trade practices before dropping the suit as Access reached a settlement with the state.

David J. Neal: 305-376-3559, @DavidJNeal