The legend of Miss Cleo begins in 1996 in Seattle, Washington…
A woman who called herself Ree Harris (she had also gone by Cleomili Harris, Youree Perris, Cleo Harris, and Rae Dell Harris) had just finished producing and acting in a play.
A 2002 investigation by the Seattle P-I found that Ree had created a character named Cleo. “Back then, she was known as Ree Perris and had produced and acted in a play at the Langston Hughes Cultural Arts Center called For Women Only. In it, Perris played a Jamaican woman named Cleo.”
But there was drama with the production.
Apparently Cleo had dealt poorly with the grant money she was given by the Langston Center. Actors were left unpaid, and the Langston Center wanted answers. They were going to press charges but decided the legal action would cost far more than that money.
So “Cleo” left town.
In 1997, she popped up at the Psychic Readers Network, where she revived her character of Cleo. Cleo claimed to be from a long line of Jamaican shamans. The psychic company added the “Miss” to the front of her name and BOOM: Miss Cleo was born.
From 1997 to 2002, “Miss Cleo” was the spokesperson for the Psychic Readers Company. During this time the service charged people $1 BILLION!!! They would collect half of that.
You probably remember some of these commercials:
My favorite is this guest appearance on the Jenny Jones show.
In 1999, Court TV (now truTV) started an investigation about the Psychic Readers Network. They wanted to know if Cleo was genuine and if the psychic readings were accurate.
There was also controversy with the commercials saying you could call for a “free” reading. Apparently, the first five minutes were spent giving personal information, which means the psychic readings never actually happened. On average, customers were being charged $60 a call.
When the investigation concluded, Court TV found that many of the”psychics” were actually voice actors with scripts. A 2012 XO Jane article about one of the readers confirmed this. In the article, a former “psychic” explains how she found the job in a local classified ad. It paid $12 an hour.
Then, in 2001, the state of Missouri sued the psychic hotline for fraud. A bunch of other states followed.
In March 2002, the Florida attorney general’s office released her birth certificate, revealing once and for all that Miss Cleo is actually from California, not Jamaica. Her parents are American as well.
Later that year, the FTC got involved and shut the operation down. They demanded that the Psychic Network cancel $500 million in payments. The company was also fined $5 million.
Miss Cleo wasn’t charged with anything. She left the operation untouched.
Years passed and not much was heard of from Miss Cleo. She had a small voice role on Grand Theft Auto: Vice City, and in 2005 did a used-car commercial for a car dealership in Orlando.
Then, in 2006, “Miss Cleo” appeared basically out of nowhere when she announced she was a lesbian in The Advocate’s “Coming Out” issue.
The weird part of the interview was that “Miss Cleo” insisted that she was genuine. She swore that she had Jamaican roots even after all of the lawsuits and drama of the past couple of years. Miss Cleo told The Advocate, “I’m more a shaman, an elder in a community who has visions and gives direction to people in their village. My clients and my students are my village. I take care of this community. If you sit down at my table, you have to take away a lesson and not just learn what is going to happen tomorrow. I also perform weddings — both gay and straight marriages — and house cleansings and blessings.”
The last time the world heard from Miss Cleo is this interview with the Spokesman-Review from 2009. According to the interview, she still goes by the name of Miss Cleo. She lives in Florida and still performs readings that cost anywhere from $75 to $250. Most importantly, she doesn’t call herself a psychic anymore — she’s now a voodoo priestess.
The article also links to an official Miss Cleo website, www.the-real-mscleo.com, but it doesn’t exist anymore. So, yet again, Miss Cleo has disappeared. Who knows where she’ll turn up next.
Update: Miss Cleo apparently has her own podcast: Conversations With Cleo.
BuzzFeed also got this exclusive clip from a new documentary called Hotline. In the clip, Miss Cleo explains her life after Psychic Friends Network. It gets pretty intense!