You couldn’t change the channel in the late 90s without running into a Miss Cleo advertisement. Virtually every commercial on daytime T.V. featured a failed playwright from Los Angeles who affected an absurd Caribbean accent and invited you to call her.
Miss Cleo was one of countless charge-by-the-minute 1-900 numbers usually reserved for adult chat lines. She was also wildly successful in her day, but nowhere near the hit that Sylvia Browne was.
America has always been interested in ghosts, psychics, and the supernatural, but there was a groundswell in the late 90s.
Browne would show up on Montel Williams and Larry King, proclaiming to channel the spirits of loved ones that had passed on.
She provided hope of an afterlife and comfort in the knowledge our dead relatives were proud of us. If they met an untimely end shrouded in mystery, Browne was there to shed light on that, too.
But it couldn’t last, because it wasn’t real. General public opinion began to shift, and though she retained a following until her death, most of the country saw her as a charlatan.
10 She Was A Felon Before She Rose To Fame
Browne’s career as a psychic started in the 1970s, but it was all phone and in-person meetings. It wasn’t until 1990, with her book ‘Adventures of a Psychic,’ that she got name recognition.
She immediately began appearing on The Montel Williams Show the following year. But no one was told of her past crimes.
It seems in the late 1980s; the F.B.I. began investigating Browne for investment fraud. Several significant banks that she had taken loans out of had caused “sustained losses” at the banks.
Browne and her then-husband Kenzil Dalzel Browne were indicted for selling securities in a gold-mining venture under pretenses.
At least $20,000 of the money stolen from an investor for mining equipment was used instead to fund Browne’s Nirvana Foundation for Psychic Research.
The couple pleaded guilty and got a suspended sentence, but Browne was also sentenced to 200 community service hours.
9 She Was Wrong Constantly, Starting With Shawn Hornbeck
There’s no way of telling how many people Browne misled with her predictions before her television appearances, and her audience cold reads were never followed upon.
The first case in which it was apparent Browne was wrong was the disappearance of Shawn Hornbeck. Hornbeck, 11, had disappeared without a trace in 2002 while riding his bike outside his house in Richwoods, Missouri.
Browne spoke to Hornbeck’s parents, telling them that a Hispanic man with dreadlocks took him and that Shawn was now deceased.
Five years later, in 2007, Shawn was found alive. His kidnapper, a white man with short hair, was arrested.