On Sylvia Browne and The Death of an Awful Person

Sylvia Browne died yesterday, and, despite the lack of any information in her CNN obit, she was, by almost any measure, an awful person. She lied and cheated people out of their money and their memories of their loved ones. She was indicted for fraud several times. Pretty much every verifiable prediction she ever made was wrong, including that of her own death (she told Larry King she’d live to 88).

It’s worth asking now, as surely thousands of skeptics are working on their “(raspy voice) she’s dead (/raspy voice)” jokes, is it wrong to mention all this on the occasion of someone’s death? Christopher Hitchens was known for dancing on the graves of the people he despised, and maybe that has subtly influenced me over the years. Even though I believe that every person’s (and further, every mammal’s and bird’s) life is sacrosanct and that every death is permanent, the inevitability of death forces me to be less precious about it than society may demand.

The family and friends of the deceased are those who really matter when it comes to not speaking ill of the dead – is it painful for them to read about Sylvia Browne’s sociopathy while they’re deep in mourning?

In a way, it’s ironic: Sylvia Browne took people’s memories of their dead or missing loved ones and she warped them, giving a mother nightmares about her daughter being sold into sex slavery in Japan, or telling another family that their dead daughter was stripping in Hollywood. But in using the occasion of Browne’s death to talk about her misdeeds, the very worst that skeptics will do is underscore the truth of her life – and I have to say I’m okay with that.

I’m hoping to have a video out tomorrow about Sylvia Browne, and yes, there will be jokes. I can’t help it.

Rebecca Watson

Rebecca is a writer, speaker, YouTube personality, and unrepentant science nerd. In addition to founding and continuing to run Skepchick, she hosts Quiz-o-Tron, a monthly science-themed quiz show and podcast that pits comedians against nerds. There is an asteroid named in her honor. Twitter @rebeccawatson Mastodon Instagram @actuallyrebeccawatson TikTok @actuallyrebeccawatson YouTube @rebeccawatson BlueSky

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  1. Rebecca, I agree with you. There is precedent. Remember the crowds who stuck the boot in when Maggie Thatcher died? They had good reason. Call it Kismet or Karma if you like.

  2. Thank you for this voice of reason. My ‘friends’ on Facebook are posting all this nice stuff about her (along with decidedly more angelic pictures than the one here lol). I’ve directed them to and now I can direct them to the links you just provided. I look forward to your video!

  3. I don’t think she’s dead honey. I think you’ll find her in a building near water, and for some reason I’m seeing three points and a lot of flames. I… no wait, she it dead. My mistake.

  4. Did she always look like Tommy Lee Jones in drag?

    These ‘clairvoyants’ are repellent people. I remember South Park did a fantastic episode deconstructing John Edward.

  5. One of the most wicked people in the world is finally gone. Of course, the media will no doubt be nothing but reverent. But this is the woman who blithely told parents their children were dead when they were not, becoming a millionaire on the superstition and pain and desperation of others. She WILL not be missed. Her life was, after all, for entertainment purposes only…

  6. Well said. We can be too sensitive when awful people croak. If healthy invective was good enough for Byron…?

  7. There’s one member of her family I won’t be feeling much sympathy for and that’s her son by her first marriage, Christopher Dufresne. He’s been helping Mama defraud people for a while now, like a chip of the old block.

    Who trusts a psychic that’s been married four times? Maybe the first time she didn’t see the divorce coming, but the third time?

    Ding Dong, the wicked psychic is dead!

  8. I’m only finding out now about Sylvia Brown but I can see the tendency to be nice after death with the analogy of Andrew Breitbart after he died. All I heard from the liberal blogosphere was that he was a dear colleague and condolences went out to his family. I thought hmmm, while he was alive this guy was considered a disgusting lowlife who twisted the truth into ugly falsehoods on a daily basis on his conservative website. Go figure.

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