Many of us only had a nodding acquaintance with Sylvia Browne, the high-profile psychic who appeared on shows like Larry King Live and The Montel Williams Show to share her predictions. In 2020, we’re thinking about Browne more than ever, given her prediction in a 2008 book that a “severe pneumonia-like illness” (much like the current coronavirus) would sweep the globe. (She also predicted it would vanish suddenly, then reappear ten years later — we’ll be eagerly awaiting to see how that one pans out).
But while that prediction seems eerily accurate, others have been deeply, even tragically wrong. Let’s take a look back at what the psychic got right, and what she didn’t.
Browne’s Best Predictions
The most accurate prediction is the one we’ve already mentioned, from her 2008 book End of Days: Predictions and Prophecies About the End of the World. “In around 2020, a severe pneumonia-like illness will spread throughout the globe, attacking the lungs and the bronchial tubes and resisting all known treatments,” Browne wrote. “Almost more baffling than the illness itself will be the fact that it will suddenly vanish as quickly as it arrived, attack again ten years later, and then disappear completely.”
Coronavirus — a severe pneumonia-like illness — has been spreading around the globe since the start of 2020. As of March 2020, we don’t yet now how the rest of this prediction will play out.
Beyond this 2008 prediction, it’s difficult to find much proof of what Sylvia Browne got right. She did predict that Arnold Schwarzenegger would run for political office before his campaign for governor of California. She also predicted that two people would be arrested for the Oklahoma City bombings. She prophesied that the Jon Benet Ramsey case would never be solved and that Madonna would have another kid by a different man. It’s probably fair to say anyone could have made those last two “predictions.”
Browne’s Worst Predictions
We would never want to speak ill of the dead, but Browne’s legacy is filled with predictions that she not only got wrong, but that caused family members undue stress and grief as a result of her false claims.
Two predictions that Browne has been criticized harshly for are related to the Amanda Berry and Shawn Hornbeck cases. She said Berry was dead, which as we all learned recently, the woman who was held hostage by Ariel Castro in Ohio is very much alive. When Browne was called out on her erroneous declaration, she said in a statement, “Only God is right all the time.”
In the case of 11-year-old Shawn Hornbeck, Browne told his parents he was dead and had been kidnapped by a dark-skinned man with dreadlocks. Five years later, Hornbeck was found alive and had been abducted by a Caucasian man with short hair.
The Committee for Skeptical Inquiry published an article in March 2010 that studied 115 of Browne’s predictions related to criminal cases. They found 25 to be completely wrong, and the remaining cases had no available details or remained unsolved, so there is no way to prove Browne’s accuracy or lack thereof.
The study goes on to criticize details Browne provided to parents in criminal cases that increased their suffering. Browne told a grieving grandmother of a 6-year-old girl who was abducted from her yard in Texas that she had been sold into slavery and taken to Japan. Four years later authorities found the girls’ remains in Texas.
Not all of Browne’s false claims had to do with heinous crimes. A few of the lighter predictions she made, but also got wrong were:
“Volcanic eruption in Japan causes poisonous cloud mass in April (1998).” (What did Browne have against Japan?)
“David Letterman decides to call it quits from his nightly late show after this year (2000).”
“American troops will be pulled out of Iraq by June or July (2004).”
“Julia Roberts’ marriage will end (2004).”
Browne also famously claimed she would die at the age of 88, but she was 77 when she passed away.
A version of this article was originally published November 2013.