YOUREE DELL HARRIS, THE TV PSYCHIC MISS CLEO
Youree Dell Harris, whose Jamaican-accented character Miss Cleo was the face (and voice) of ubiquitous psychic hotline commercials in the late 1990s before the company was fined by the federal government, died on Tuesday in Palm Beach, Fla. She was 53.
The cause was cancer, William J. Cone Jr., a lawyer for Ms. Harris, said in a statement.
TMZ, which originally reported her death, said she had died in a hospice center.
Ms. Harris first entered the pop culture zeitgeist in the late ’90s, arriving with a humble set of tools built for late-night TV audiences: a deck of tarot cards, a skeptical facial expression and an oft-uttered catchphrase — “Call me now!”
As a vividly colored background swirled or candles burned, Miss Cleo sat and provided counsel to often-sheepish callers. Many of the commercials followed a cheating-lover theme:
“Who asked you to go out of town, the stupid young one or the married one?” she asked a caller in one commercial.
“The married one,” the caller answered.
“That’s what me thought,” Miss Cleo said with a knowing nod.
The commercials made her a star of the Psychic Readers Network. The Miss Cleo character also inspired spoofs on late-night TV and gave Ms. Harris other business opportunities, including a book, “Keepin’ It Real: A Practical Guide for Spiritual Living.” She voiced a character in a 2002 video game, Grand Theft Auto: Vice City.
But her fame also led to questions about her past. In 2002, The Seattle Post-Intelligencer published an investigation that revealed she had a list of aliases and a longer list of former colleagues on the local theater scene who said they had been cheated out of money and questioned her Jamaican background.
“She had no Jamaican accent — she was born and raised in L.A.,” a former cast mate told the paper. (A copy of a birth certificate posted by BuzzFeed in 2013 showed that Ms. Harris was indeed born in Los Angeles on Aug. 12, 1962.) Information on her survivors was not immediately available.
In 2002, the Psychic Readers Network and Access Resource Services were the subject of a federal lawsuit that ordered the companies to forgive $500 million in customer fees. The networks agreed to stop selling their services over the phone, and, according to the Federal Trade Commission, the companies agreed to pay a $5 million fine.
JAMES ALAN McPHERSON, WRITER, WINNER OF THE PULITZER PRIZE, MacARTHUR, AND GUGGENHEIM
As a teenager, James Alan McPherson worked as a passenger-car waiter on the Great Northern Railroad. The experience shaped him as a man and as a writer; he would spend his life producing short fiction and essays exploring race and class in America — the gulf separating white privilege from the black experience. One of his first published stories, “On Trains,” included in his fiction collection Hue and Cry, chronicles a white woman’s unthinking treatment of black waiters and porters on a train, and subtly reveals its lingering effects on all involved.
He put himself through Harvard Law School working as a janitor; the month he graduated he sold his first manuscript to the Atlantic Monthly magazine. In 1972, he was awarded a John Simon Guggenheim Fellowship. In 1978, he became the first African-American writer to win a Pulitzer Prize for fiction, for his collection Elbow Room.
That same year, he talked to The Atlantic about his approach to writing, to race, and to life: “I believe that if one can experience diversity, touch a variety of its people, laugh at its craziness, distill wisdom from its tragedies, and attempt to synthesize all this inside oneself without going crazy, one will have earned the right to call oneself ‘citizen of the United States.'”
In 1981 he was named a MacArthur Fellow, and in 1995 he was inducted into the American Academy of Arts and Sciences.
Later in life, he spent many years as a professor at the Iowa Writers’ Workshop in Iowa City.
I studied under him there in 1994 and 1995. He was a kind and very gentle man, soft-spoken to the point of shyness, but as a teacher he could be quite firm, unafraid to point out a young writer’s blind spots.
He believed that to write fiction in America meant writing about class in America, and that young writers must remain mindful of that fact, lest their work come off as callow and shamefully ignorant.
Many times I watched him press a student in his workshop (on more than one occasion, me) about the racial and cultural underpinnings of his or her story: what did it mean that I set this scene at a swanky restaurant? How could my characters afford it? What were they prioritizing in their lives to make that choice over others? And if they truly didn’t have to worry about money, how would that affect the way they moved through the world? Did they believe themselves entitled to the life they lived? Did they even notice the waiters and busboys swirling around them?
American history was a passion of his, and though his work often evinced a wry humor, in person he struck me as a serious man who cared deeply about the shadow that history casts on the present. I remember him walking into workshop the weekend after the film Forrest Gump came out, and spending fifteen minutes quietly but passionately fuming over its glib, whistle-stop debasement of the American experience.
He wasn’t a the kind of teacher who offered his students close line-edits; instead, he was someone who read your work and reflected it back to you, patiently explained just what you had really written — and what you had not. And if you were a writer like I was then, you couldn’t help but come away from a workshop with Jim believing that what you hadn’t written was the stuff that was really worth writing about.
James Alan McPherson died today in an Iowa City hospital of respiratory failure and other complications. He was 72.
Petra Mayer contributed to this report.
SANDY PEARLMAN, PRODUCED CLASH, BLUE OYSTER CULT,
Longtime friend Robert Duncan said Pearlman died Tuesday in Novato Community Hospital in Novato, California. He was 72 and had been in poor health since suffering a cerebral hemorrhage last year. Duncan said Pearlman had no immediate survivors.
A New York City native and a graduate of State University of New York at Stony Brook, Pearlman wrote for one of the first rock magazines, Crawdaddy, in the 1960s and through Stony Brook met the musicians who became Blue Oyster Cult. (Originally called Soft White Underbelly). He booked early shows for the five-man group, arranged a meeting with then-Columbia Records executive Clive Davis that led to a record deal and produced several of their albums. Blue Oyster Cult sold millions of records and Pearlman was among the producers of the band’s classic hit “(Don’t Fear) the Reaper.”
He also worked with a variety of punk and heavy metal acts, from Smith and Black Sabbath to the Dictators and Romeo Void, and in 1978 produced one of punk’s most influential albums, the Clash’s “Give ‘Em Enough Rope.”
More recently, he was a tour promoter, head of the alternative label 415 Records and a member of the Library of Congress’ preservation board. He was also an executive with one of the first companies to sell music online, eMusic.com, and taught music at McGill University in Montreal.