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Psychic Mary Occhino Doesn’t Know Best

Ryan Shaffer

Volume 21.3, Fall 2011

Mary Occhino is a rising psychic star in the national spotlight. In the last few years she has written three books, hosted a radio show on which she gave medical readings, and had a reality television show called Mary Knows Best on the Syfy cable network. The show spotlighted Occhino raising “a colorful Long Island Italian-American family” and living everyday life with a psychic ability. Before this, Occhino was already well-known on the East Coast (as “Mary Rose”) for her books and radio show Angels on Call, which was aired by SiriusXM. Over the years, Occhino has claimed to assist in missing persons cases, talk to the dead, and peer into the futures of celebrity lives. This article delves into Occhino’s predictions and activities, revealing that while Occhino is short on claims, her claims are short on independent proof. The independent evidence shows that when it comes to predictions, Occhino doesn’t know best.

Occhino has conducted psychic readings for clients in Bay Shore on Long Island since the 1990s. After she established a devoted following, her first book, Beyond These Four Walls, was published in 2004 and was followed by Sign of the Dove in 2006. That same year, her daily radio show Angels on Call debuted on December 11. Each show consisted of personal readings based on a different theme, such as “Medical Mon­days” for “listeners’ current and future health” (quoted from Occhino’s SiriusXM webpage, which has since been taken down). Occhino is not a medical doctor, lacks formal credentials in medicine, and, according to her now-defunct radio show biography, “didn’t take college courses.” Rather, she claims that when she was diagnosed with multiple sclerosis in 1992, it heightened her psychic senses. A promotional sample highlighting Occhino’s “medical readings” in­cluded a caller telling Occhino, “You are right on the money.” After the caller de­scribes headache afflictions, there is this exchange:

Occhino: It’s like I got pains in my eyes.

Caller: Okay. Do you see anything in my stomach?

Occhino: Hold up. No, no. I gotta work my way down because what we think [sic] the minor things may be symptoms of other things.

Caller: Okay.

Occhino: Okay? So you may be getting headaches from the acid or bile in your stomach or whatever. You know what I mean?

Caller: Uh-huh.

Occhino: This could all be connected. So I just gotta work my way down. Now when I work my way [sic] into your in­testines.

Caller: Uh-huh.

Occhino: To the middle of your intestines. They’re long. In the middle it makes me feel, like there’s maybe some acid burn out. (Pause)

Caller: Uh-huh.

Occhino: It makes me feel like. (Pause) Have you ever been treated for duodenal ulcers or bleeding ulcers?

Caller: Yes.

Occhino: Okay because that’s what I’m seeing like little scabs.

Caller: Yep.

Occhino: In the lining of your intes­tines.

Caller: Yep.

Occhino: Have you checked? I would check. If I were you I would check. I would bring up to my doctor diverticulitis.

Caller: Yep. I have that.

This exchange, which has since been re­moved from Sirius’s website, is revealing. First, it is only when the caller directs Occhino to a part of the body that is troubling her that Occhino focuses on the stomach region and claims the affliction is an ulcer. According to the National Institutes of Health website, “abdominal discomfort is the most common symptom of both duodenal and gastric ulcers” (National Digestive Diseases Information Clearinghouse 2010). Furthermore, Occhino asked, “Have you ever been treated for duodenal ulcers or bleeding ulcers?” That is very different from concluding that the caller’s current problem is a specific ulcer. Since twenty-five million people will suffer from an ulcer at some point, it is not unreasonable to assume that an older woman (as the caller’s voice seemed to indicate) with abdominal pain might have had an ulcer at one time. Once Occhino was correct, the rest of the show was built from this “hit.” Next, Occhino tells the caller she has diverticulitis, which Occhino tells the caller “can come with ulcers.” Furthermore, the National Insti­tutes of Health maintains that “diverticulitis is very common. It is found in more than half of Americans over age 60” (“Diver­ticulitis” 2010). Thus there is a 50 percent chance the caller will have this affliction after the age of sixty. Finally, Occhino offers other possible issues that are spun off from the ulcer “hit” before concluding with vague, noncommittal advice, telling the listener to get better by “calming down.”

Beyond “Medical Mondays,” Occhino is happy to mention her involvement in high-profile crime cases. A 2006 Newsday article claims she “may have helped crack the case of the disappearance of Patrick McNeill Jr.” (Dowdy 2006). There is no evidence or in­formation in the paper about what she predicted. Instead, the actual details about McNeill’s disappearance are that McNeill was drinking at a bar with friends and went to meet a girl. He was never heard from again. His body was discovered two months later after being spotted “floating near the 65th Street Pier” and was picked up “by an Army Corps of Engineers boat” (Cooper 1997). An autopsy revealed he had drowned with a “moderate amount of alcohol in his blood” (“Autopsy Shows a Fordham Student Drowned” 1997). It is unclear how Occhino was even involved with the McNeill affair, much less how she “broke” the case.

Occhino also claims to have “weighed in on local cases,” including the 1992 Katie Beers kidnapping and the 1999 disappearance of Katherine Kolodziej (Dowdy 2006). The Beers kidnapping ended when John Esposito told police Beers was “hidden in an elaborate chamber under his Bay Shore bungalow” (Blumenthal 1993). Thus, there is no proof the case was solved by psychic means; rather Esposito told police Beers’s location. In addition, Newsday also re­ported in 1999 that Occhino “said she had identified” Kolodziej’s murderer, who “was already on the police’s short list of suspects” (Dowdy 1999). Despite a police officer saying “We [have] got some very good leads,” the more than decade-old case remains unsolved. Occhino’s psychic insight was therefore not helpful enough to solve the case in the intervening decade.

In 2007, fresh from the celebrity of her radio show, Occhino used her “gift” to gaze into the celebrity world. She told the New York Post that Lindsay Lohan is “going to be blackballed and working in a 7-Eleven on Long Island” (Fleming 2007). While it is not much of a stretch to say a person with a drug problem might be “blackballed,” Lohan entered rehab in Southern California and has not worked at a 7-Eleven on Long Island. Occhino also said Mario Batali, a TV chef, must lose weight or will “have a heart attack within three years.” It does not take psychic power to advise that an overweight middle-aged man should lose weight or he’ll have health problems. The chef lost thirty-five pounds in 2010, but Occhino failed to predict his current business problems and the cancellation of his show.

In another failed prediction, Occhino asserted Whitney Houston would “be back and bigger than ever. . . . She will do a movie and win an Academy award.” Occhino further said, “She’ll work with Mel Gibson.” This prediction again fails on all counts as Houston has neither starred in a recent movie with Gibson nor won the award for a new project. Furthermore, no date was given, which hedges the possibility that the prediction may come true at some point the future. Houston’s 2009 tour suffered from trouble, and in 2010 Gibson faced public-relations problems in a custody fight with Oksana Grigorieva. Occhino then made a prediction that Star Jones would “never get divorced.” After three years of marriage, Jones filed for divorce from Al Reynolds in March 2008. Despite these abysmal predictions, Occhino’s star continued to rise.

In 2006, Occhino’s fee was $300 for an hour-long reading from her Long Island home or her Manhattan apartment on the Upper West Side (Padgett 2006). Two years later, she re­leased her third book, Awakened Instincts, coauthored with her daughter Jacqueline Sul­livan. Despite the fact that fortune-telling is illegal (except for “entertainment” purposes) in New York State, Occhino has built a following in New York and now conducts seminars and readings throughout the United States. In 2010, Atlas Media Corporation gave Occhino a one-hour television show on Syfy. The show premiered on July 15 and chronicled Occhino raising a family, even trying to find her daughter a husband, while coming into contact with people who were seemingly impressed with her psychic abilities. The reaction from the press was immediately negative. Newsday, the largest Long Island newspaper, graded the show a C–, explaining, “The producers slice, dice, nip and tuck hours of daily-life footage into lickety-split montages, and still nothing feels remotely fresh or real” (Werts 2010). The New York Post explained why “Mary knows worst” by saying the show “can’t de­cide if it’s a reality show about a Long Island family that is ripe for ridicule, or a show about a woman who was born with a gift that is no laughing matter.” A few weeks later, in the midst of poor ratings, Syfy cancelled the show. As Rob Vaux, of Mania.com, asked: “Did you see that coming, psychic lady?” (Vaux 2010).

Occhino uses her “involvement” in police cases to further her psychic career while failing to offer independent empirical proof of psychic abilities. Her biography cites an unpublished “test” by Gary Schwartz as validation for psychic powers. In fact, Schwartz’s educational credentials and affiliations are featured prominently in Occhino’s current biography, but the bio neglects her own education and the long history of criticisms about Schwartz’s methods and tests (“About Mary Occhino” 2010). She offered “virtual MRIs” to callers on her show without any medical education, which is potentially dangerous if people accept her claims without seeking proper medical diagnoses. In late December 2010, Occhino announced she would not “renew” her radio contract with SiriusXM, effectively ending her radio show in its current format. But her failed predictions and the end of her shows have not hurt her business. Occhino’s books, business, and seminars continue to attract desperate people, and her store, Mary O’s Celestial Whispers in Center Moriches, New York, remains in business. But does Mary know best? When it comes to her psychic predictions, it appears not.


References

About Mary Occhino. 2010. Available online at http://celestialwhispers.com/about/.

Autopsy shows a Fordham student drowned. 1997. New York Times (April 17).

Blumenthal, Ralph. 1993. The Katie Beers case; mystery surrounds suspect and underground chamber. New York Times (January 15).

Comeback Whitney hits a flat note Down Under. 2010. AFP (February 23).

Cooper, Michael. 1997. Body of missing Fordham Student is found off pier. New York Times (April 8).

Diverticulitis (encyclopedia entry). 2010. Medline Plus Medical Encyclopedia. Available online at http://www.nlm.nih.gov/medlineplus/ency/article/000257.htm.

Dowdy, Zachary. 1999. When all else fails, try a sixth sense. Newsday (October 6).

———. 2006. Seeking by sixth sense: Court TV profiles Bay Shore psychic who has more than stars in her eyes when helping in police work. Newsday (April 25).

Fleming, Kirsten. 2007. Divine secrets—Psychic Mary Occhino predicts the fates of the ultra-famous. New York Post (February 8).

Ghost host: At home with a real Long Island psychic. 2010. New York Post (July 15).

National Digestive Diseases Information Clearing­house. 2010. H. pylori and peptic ulcers. Available online at http://digestive.niddk.nih.gov/ddiseases/pubs/hpylori/.

Padgett, Tania. 2006. Paranormal packs halls, sells books and floods airwaves. San Francisco Chronicle (June 18).

Shaffer, Ryan. 2010. Entertainment, fakery, and ambiguity: Examining the ‘Fortune Telling Law’ in New York State. Skeptical Inquirer (March/April).

Vaux, Rob. 2010. The TV wasteland continues. Mania.com (August 8). Available at http://www.mania.com/tv-wasteland-continues_article_124555.html.

Werts, Diane. 2010. LI psychic should know better on ‘Mary Knows Best.’ Newsday (July 15).

Ryan Shaffer

Ryan Shaffer is a writer and historian. He has a PhD in history and is currently a postdoctoral fellow at the Institute for Global Studies at Stony Brook University in New York.