Sylvia Browne Dies at 77; Self-Proclaimed Psychic
Published: November 21, 2013
Sylvia Browne, a self-proclaimed psychic who claimed to be able to see into the past, the future and the afterlife — and who saw many of her books ascend best-seller lists — died on Wednesday in San Jose, Calif. She was 77.
HarperOne, via Associated Press
Her death, announced on her website, was confirmed by Leslie Kelsay, a spokeswoman for Good Samaritan Hospital, where Ms. Browne died. No cause was given.
Psychics tend to be sure of themselves, and Ms. Browne was no exception. She said she could reach back centuries to speak to the dead. She claimed to have helped police departments find murder suspects and their missing victims. She often took credit for accurately predicting that the government intern Chandra Levy would be found dead in Rock Creek Park in Washington — though law enforcement officials had been searching that area since shortly after she was reported missing in May 2001.
More than once, with the television cameras rolling, Ms. Browne told the parents of a missing child that their son or daughter was dead — sometimes she would say precisely where — only for the child to be found alive later. In 2004, she told the mother of the Ohio kidnapping victim Amanda Berry that her daughter was dead. Ms. Berry, held captive for more than a decade, was rescued this May.
Although Ms. Browne often appeared on shows like “Larry King Live” and was a regular guest on “The Montel Williams Show,” much of her income came from customers who paid $700 to ask her questions over the telephone for 30 minutes.
She was frequently taken to task by skeptics, most notably the professional psychic debunker James Randi. But the questions raised about her abilities did not damage her appeal as an author.
She published more than 40 books, and many were mainstays on The New York Times’s best-seller list. Among the most popular titles were “Secrets & Mysteries of the World,” “If You Could See What I See,” “Insight” and “End of Days,” which featured her interpretation of various end-of-the-world prophecies.
Sylvia Browne was born Sylvia Shoemaker on Oct. 19, 1936, and grew up in Kansas City, Mo. “Her powers manifested themselves when she was 3 years old,” according to the website of the Society of Novus Spiritus, a Gnostic Christian organization she founded in 1986.
Her biography on that site says she earned a graduate degree in English at an unspecified university and worked for 18 years as a teacher in a Catholic school, and that she trained as a hypnotist and “trance medium.”
Survivors include her husband, Michael Ulery; two sons from a previous marriage, Christopher and Paul Dufresne; three grandchildren; and a sister, Sharon Bortolussi.
Ms. Browne released many videos through her website. In 2012, she made a brief video that she said was intended to put at ease people who were concerned that the world would end on Dec. 12.
“Although I do believe that the world will sustain itself, I don’t believe we’re going to be here after about 95 years,” she said. “People get very concerned about that, but it’s not going to be some type of horrible monster coming out of the sea and eating you or tearing your flesh off and throwing people down into a pit of hell. A loving God would not do that to anybody. You have to think logically.”