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You Can't Fool Miss Cleo - Psychic Readers Network Pitchwoman Dead at 53

Youree Dell Harris Best Known From 1990s Infomercials

 

August 1, 2016

Youree 'Dell Harris was known to 90s TV audiences as the psychic "Miss Cleo."

Youree Dell Harris died Tuesday of cancer, surrounded by family and friends in Palm Beach, Florida, according to family attorney William J. Cone.

"She remained a pillar of strength throughout. She has touched so many lives, both within her family and in the community," Cone said in a statement. "She will be dearly missed by us all."

Harris was the face of the famous Psychic Readers Network infomercials. She was promoted as the psychic "Miss Cleo" who could read tarot cards and predict the future, luring customers in with her enthusiastic "Call me now!" catch phrase, Jamaican accent and head wraps.

"She's become a household name simply by the sheer force of her psychic gifts, which she's honed since she was a little girl in the Caribbean," the company advertised at the time. "Born in the Trelawny section of Jamaica, Miss Cleo says she noticed at a very young age that she had unique talents."

Harris was actually born in Los Angeles, a fact that came to light after the Federal Trade Commission went after Access Resource Services, or ARS, the company behind the hotline.

The agency accused ARS and the Psychic Readers Network of making more than $1 billion while committing multiple consumer violations, including false advertising and overly aggressive collection efforts. In 2002 the companies agreed to pay a $5 million fine and forgive $500 million in customer charges to settle the matter, without admitting any illegalities.

Harris was not named as a defendant in the civil lawsuit.

Born on August 13, 1962, Harris was raised by Caribbean parents who sent her to a high-end boarding school.

She said in an interview Vice that she was gifted in the supernatural because she came from a "family of Obeah - which is another word for voodoo."

"My teacher was Haitian, born in Port-au-Prince, and I studied under her for some 30 years and then became a mambo myself," she said.

"They refer to me as psychic because the word voodoo scares just about everybody."

Harris portrayed "Miss Cleo" from 1997 to 2002.

Harris was also a playwright, writing under the name of Ree Perris. As Perris, she appeared as a Jamaican character named Cleo in a play she wrote titled "For Women Only." Besides 'For Women Only,' Perris produced and performed two other plays in Seattle with the Langston Hughes Cultural Arts Center in 1997, but then left town, reportedly to escape debt collectors.

Harris told Vice she struggled with both being portrayed as a con artist and false stories that she had been jailed for being Miss Cleo.

"It's taken 10 years for me to move through all of that, because in the Jamaican culture - especially with the way my father was - all you have is your word," she said. "So it hurts for people to go around and be able to tell a lie to the point where it becomes fact on a [computer] box. So I struggle with it."

She eventually started her own hotline where she took calls for a fee.

Inspired by her gay 16-year-old godson, in 2006 Harris came out as a lesbian.

"The reason it's scary is because in my personal experience, black cultures throughout the world have a more difficult time accepting homosexuality in their family," Harris told The Guardian.

Harris was married as a teenager and gave birth to a daughter at age 19 before she and her husband divorced when she was 21.

She was a grandmother, devoted to her family and friends, and seldom seen in the media in recent years.

In 2014, Harris did appear in the documentary "Hotline," speaking about the connections strangers can make over the phone. "I don't know who I helped, but I'm certain I helped some people," she said in the show.

 

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