The classic image of the headscarf-wearing gypsy fortune teller may be popular in Hollywood, but it's not welcome in the world of Sylvia Browne.
Introduced to American homes as a frequent guest on "The Montel Williams Show," Browne remains one of the most sought-after celebrity mediums. She offers advice on just about everything, including relationships, and delivers personal messages from loved ones who've passed on.
Though she has legions of fans, skeptics have been known to challenge her publicly -- and Browne is not one to back down, either from an argument or request for spiritual services.
She'll allow folks at Eagle Mountain Casino to judge for themselves whether she's the real thing when she stops for a one-woman show this weekend.
"Honest to God, I've been in this all my life. I don't know what to call it," said Browne, 76, when asked how she prefers to be addressed during a recent phone interview. "I'm getting to the point that I want to be known as a 'spiritual teacher.' I don't know why, but 'psychic' sounds as bad as 'fortune teller.' We have so many nuts running around that you don't even wanna tell people. Through my whole life, I've tried to clean it up and it hasn't done a bit of good."
Browne maintains a solid schedule of year-round public appearances and book- signings, while tending to connections made through her website, which attracts millions of visitors a day seeking counseling.
"I don't sleep a lot. I try to answer all my questions, or at least try and get to them within a week. I just got through close to 50 on paper, letter questions, and I've done 10 readings over the phone, then a couple of interviews."
Browne (whose real surname is Shoemaker) credits her grandmother, Ada Coil, a noted Kansas City medium, with helping guide her through the earliest paranormal encounters of her youth.
"When I knew people that were going to die, I would see their faces around me. Well, that was a horrible thing. Thank God my grandmother was still alive, because when I told her how horrible it was, she said, 'Then, just ask God to remove that. You'll know when people are going to die if you want to, but you're not going to see the physical manifestation.' That's what I did, and it went away."
Browne said her gifts continued to develop as she grew into adulthood, as did a deeper understanding of her abilities based on both supernatural and scientific research.
"When I was around 19 or 20, I remember getting into a crowd of people and just being bombarded with messages: This one over there was getting a divorce, this one over there was having terrible stomach problems, and finally I just had to narrow my light. In other words, I tried to pull my soul light in closer to my body. Because, you know, we're very vibratory. We're actually electrical beings. We can chart that on the EEG devices that we're electrical. But I think that our electricity can be pulled in."
Browne's foray into the realm of psychic readings began in 1974. Along the way, she developed a rabid group of loyalists, including TV talk show Montel Williams, who featured Browne on his show during "Sylvia Wednesdays." During her nearly 17 years of appearances on Williams' show, Browne would take questions from audience members on a variety of topics.
There also haven detractors, namely author and skeptic James Randi, who saw Browne as the perfect target for his studies and reports meant to debunk the paranormal. The two would spar regularly on national television.
"Everybody has skeptics. You can let that rule your life or deal with them. People are going to love you, or they're going to hate you. It's so silly. Everybody has a right to do their own thing. I don't know why they don't leave us alone. Of course, they're all atheists anyway. I don't give a darn about them. I really don't."
Browne's advice to those who think they, too, might have the gift is to not be afraid.
"Everybody's born with a gift. I used to say that all the time. Interviewing small children, it's unbelievable. But it gets drummed out of them over time. It's like I always used to say: All of us were born with a cellphone from God, but somehow we dropped it."