Past Lives of the Rich and Famous is the irresistible title of infamous “psychic” Sylvia Browne’s latest effusion – her sixty-eighth book – and it claims to present exactly what the title suggests: what celebrities like Steve Jobs, Whitney Houston, Mother Teresa and many others did in their previous incarnations. To get the flavor, picture Liz Taylor as a 16th century Benedictine nun. I did resist it, though, when I saw it in the bookstore, because I do not put down good money for drivel like this – that’s what libraries are for. Alas, it is still being processed. And so, to entertain myself until my hold on it comes in, I have borrowed what is clearly a companion volume: Afterlives of the Rich and Famous.
This one gives the skinny on forty dead celebs, mostly from Hollywood. But first, we have to sit through a purple-prose description of what waits for us all at the end of that long, long tunnel – friends, relatives, and all the pets we ever had, which in my case will mean a heaving mass of cats confidently expecting kitty treats. (All pets go to heaven, according to one of Browne’s previous books.) It seems also that Heaven had a Neoclassical architect and a hyperactive landscape designer with a taste for grandiose water features; and we all get to be thirty years old there in perpetuity, until we decide we want to be reincarnated. Except for the bad souls, that is, who have to go at once through a portal called the “Left Door” and slide straight back to Earth to be reborn pretty sharpish.
Finally, Browne gets down to brass tacks with the dead celebs. For each, she provides a brief biography, and her spirit guide Francine relays the hot gossip from heaven. Francine is an early 16th century Aztec/Inca woman from Colombia, which makes her unique in the annals of archaeology – but I digress, and there is just so much to tell you.
Not surprisingly, a number of celebs live quiet, retiring afterlives on the Other Side. Marilyn Monroe reads a lot, and occasionally goes for walks on the beach with Joe DiMaggio. Katherine Hepburn lives by the sea with Spencer Tracy, and plays golf with Christopher Reeve. Anna Nicole Smith has a little yellow house by a river, is deliberately mousy, and studies Buddhism. Abe Lincoln lives like a hermit in a small lean-to, but enjoys going to Joe DiMaggio’s baseball games. Farrah Fawcett has many cats.
Michael Jackson is black again.
Other dearly departed celebs are engaged in busy, active afterlives. Paul Newman has myriad interests, but finds time to run an outreach program for newly arrived suicide victims. Rock Hudson is a dedicated hydroponic gardener, when he isn’t on Earth haunting AIDS clinics. Sharon Tate looks after babies who are about to enter fetuses on Earth. Bette Davis is collaborating on a manuscript with a future playwright who will incarnate next year. John Lennon and George Harrison jam together, and Bob Marley performs with Jim Croce, Jimi Hendrix, and Louis Armstrong.
Ray Charles can see.
A very popular pastime on the Other Side is scientific research, with all results “infused” into the minds of scientists on Earth. Cary Grant is working on global warming. John Kennedy Jr. is working on birth defects and restoring the ozone layer. Walter Cronkite is an astronomer, and lectures (along with Carl Sagan) to souls who will eventually reincarnate as astronauts. Grace Kelly is working in the forensic sciences, for reasons known only to herself. Princess Di is not only engaged in pediatric research, but visiting scientists on other planets to share information. Albert Einstein is working on time travel.
Some have already reincarnated, or are planning to do so soon. Heath Ledger needed a lot of therapy when he arrived, but he’s fine now, and looks forward to meeting his daughter during his upcoming next round on Earth. Britanny Murphy is headed for Portugal. Elvis was reborn in 2004 in France, a blonde child with a lovely singing voice, but he intends to eschew publicity and become a monk.
The worst fate on the list is the one handed out to Madalyn Murray O’Hair. For Browne, it is not enough that the founder of American Atheists was kidnapped, brutally murdered, and dismembered, along with her loved ones; O’Hair, says Browne, has a dark, vile, hateful soul, and automatically passed through the dreaded Left Door to make an immediate reappearance on Earth. It hardly seems fair. Whatever O’Hair’s faults, did she really deserve to be reborn as a nasty little Ukrainian boy named Leon, already breaking his parents’ hearts with his budding criminality?
But perhaps the most galling vignette shoves George Carlin through the long, long tunnel and into the bright light at the end:
I wish you could have seen the look of shock on George’s face when he emerged from the tunnel and rediscovered that there really is life after death after all. And when he found his first wife, Brenda, waiting to greet him, he was stunned into a long silence while he held her, after which I’m told he gaped at the hundreds of spirits and animals who gathered for the reunion and said, “I’ll be damned.” George is an excellent example of the fact that atheists are embraced on the Other Side as surely as the most devoutly religious, and with his humor, self-honesty, and misguided but honorable intentions, he tried to live a godly lifetime, no matter what words he used to define it.
Oh, I can well imagine what words he’d use to define this book.