I was saddened to hear the news that celebrity psychic Sylvia Browne died yesterday in a San Jose hospital at the age of 77. A mainstay of numerous television shows and the host of her own Internet radio show, Browne was a master of broadcast media.
I remember seeing her regularly on the San Francisco-based television talk show People Are Talking (which aired on KPIX-TV from 1978-1991) when I was a kid. Browne has reported that she was a guest on the show for over a decade. One particular appearance is etched in my memory because of the passionate way that Browne warned the viewers at home and the live studio audience about the dangers of playing with Ouija boards.
I was probably 12 years old at the time and her pronouncements about the Ouija’s power to “let the devil in” terrified me. Despite that, I ended up playing with a Ouija board with a close friend and our sisters soon after. When we asked the board who we were talking to, our hands mysteriously moved to spell out G-O-D. At that point I was officially freaked out, thinking that it was the devil in disguise.
Although I wasn’t entirely sure that I believed Browne’s theories, it was hard to ignore her when she touched upon local ghost lore when she was our hometown psychic in the late 1970s (she actually lived in my hometown). Around this same time, pop culture was filled with examples of unexplained phenomena. The creepy TV show In Search Of was quite popular (hosted by Leonard Nimoy and featuring segments about the Loch Ness Monster and spontaneous combustion) and re-runs of the Twilight Zone aired on local TV stations.
Being a preteen, I was at the perfect age for investigations into all of this strangeness. I started reading scary Stephen King stories and occult-themed books from the junior high section of the public library. Sylvia Browne hit the cultural zeitgeist at the right time and publicly investigated the supposedly haunted Toys ‘R Us store right in her backyard in Sunnyvale, California. It still amazes me that she held a seance in the same Toys ‘R Us where my parents bought my Christmas presents.
Sylvia Browne re-creates her Toys ‘R Us Seance on “That’s Incredible”
Nearly a decade ago, after I had a brush with death while driving on the Pacheco Pass, I searched online and found some of Browne’s writings about ghostly encounters on that gnarly road south of San Jose. Suddenly the unexplainable near miss with a truck heading towards me in the wrong lane seemed to make sense when I imagined that it was being navigated by a phantom driver.
As years went on, Sylvia Browne became known far beyond the San Francisco Bay Area. She was a prolific writer and a frequent guest on shows ranging from Montel Williams (where she was on the show weekly for more than 17 years) to Larry King Live to Loveline. She hosted her own talk radio show on HayHouse Radio (“Radio For Your Soul”) and was a guest and contributor to the show New Spirit Radio on BlogTalkRadio. Additionally, she offered podcasts and commercial-free audio archives as premiums for paid subscribers to her website. A sampling of podcasts are also available on iTunes.
While I found her to be entertaining (and terrifying), Browne also had detractors who claimed that Browne was a charlatan who duped people into believing she had psychic powers. In any event, she leaves a lasting legacy and will remain in the memories of the many viewers and listeners who she touched over the years.
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