Youree Dell Harris, the TV Psychic Miss Cleo, Dies at 53

The cause was cancer, William J. Cone Jr., a lawyer for Ms. Harris, said in a statement.

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.

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.

Though the commercials eventually faded, Miss Cleo remained an object of cultural curiosity. In 2006, she came out as a lesbian in aninterview with The Advocate, but also took the opportunity to address her lasting popularity.

“People give me mad love, sweetheart,” she said. “They’ll say: ‘Do you see anything? Where do we find you? When are you coming back? We miss you.’ I get a lot of love.”

Tony Shaff, who worked as a psychic reader on Ms. Cleo’s hotline for about six weeks in 2001 and interviewed her for “Hotline,” his 2014 documentary about telephone relationships between strangers, said that although she was not charged with a crime, she was hurt that her reputation had been harmed by the lawsuit.

In an interview for “Hotline,” Miss Cleo’s Jamaican accent remained as she broke into tears. “Those people are not the bad guys, even if they weren’t great psychics,” she said of herself and other hotline workers, who she said made between 12 and 24 cents a minute.

Youree De;; Harris Dies Miss Cleo Dies