But not everyone's buying his brand of good grief
John Edward
Credit: John Edward Photographed by Sacha Waldman

In my alphabetical list of things I Don’t Believe In, I’ve always kept ”Mediums” firmly filed between ”Machines, Perpetual Motion” and ”Monster, Loch Ness.” But recently I’d been watching ”Crossing Over With John Edward,” the Sci Fi Channel cult hit (which went into syndication Aug. 27), and seen how, armed with only a headful of hair gel and a furrowed brow, Edward could crumple audience members into hysterical blubbering by giving proof — through dates, names, or remembered objects — that their dead relatives were saying hello. The more episodes of serial joyous bawling I saw, the more I felt my skeptical resolve weaken. When I finally sat in his New York studio audience (or ”gallery”), all intentions of being crabbily cynical vanished, reflexively replaced with the hope of a posthumous shout-out from my grandmother Lillian, who’d passed away in December.

When Edward emerged, he quickly turned to my section of the bleachers, albeit focusing a couple of rows above me. But, I reassured myself — Nana never had a good sense of direction. ”I’m getting a B name, a male above, could be a father or an uncle or someone on that level,” he dictated at his usual three-card-monte-dealer speed. I shook my mental family tree vigorously, hoping a Bill or Bob or Ben would tumble from a hidden limb…. Come on, there’s gotta be someone dead up there who knew my grandma!

Then someone seated above me claimed the spirit, and I was left sitting grandmotherless. Damn, I thought. But I’ll get the next one. Come on, L name!

I’m hardly alone in my willingness to toss aside long-held skepticism to have Edward patch me through to heaven. The 31-year-old ex-ballroom-dance instructor/ phlebotomist from Glen Cove, Long Island (who says he discovered his psychic talent at age 15, and began hearing more from dead people while working at psychic fairs), has cultivated a mesmerized following that has grown as he went from private readings to his TV show, which premiered in July 2000. And his flock will only get bigger now that his show is syndicated to 98 percent of the country. ”If it can premiere on cable and become part of the public consciousness,” says Stacey Lynn Koerner, senior VP of broadcast research at Initiative Media, ”it’ll be blockbuster in daytime.” Edward also just released a new book, ”Crossing Over: The Stories Behind the Stories,” which seems destined to be a best-seller, just as his previous two books were.

He’s also sparked a sixth-sensible TV coup; not only are psychic-phone-line ads proliferating (like Miss Cleo’s, whose company recently paid $75,000 and settled a lawsuit claiming they had violated Missouri’s No Call telemarketing law; a separate Missouri lawsuit claiming fraud is still pending), but there are numerous shows in development with other ether explorers like James Van Praagh and Char Margolis. ”Our society has become more open to things that can’t be proven,” says Sci Fi Channel president Bonnie Hammer. ”They’re looking for answers in ways they haven’t before.”

Psychics certainly aren’t new, but Edward has mainstreamed readings with his regular-joe approach; his droopy eyelids, Buttafuoco-thick ”Lawn Guyland” accent, and bulldog approach make him seem less like a cosmic wunderkind than a mystic pizza guy. ”He’s got the same thing Oprah has,” says ”Crossing Over” executive producer Paul Shavelson. ”He’s just highly intelligent, open, and accessible.”

His unique delivery aside, however, Edward’s readings are similar to the ones psychics have been giving since Nostradamus. He gets information ”seeing, hearing, and feeling energy,” and though his details are sometimes fuzzy, he nearly always concludes with a clear message of forgiveness or love from the dearly departed. Thus, skeptics have been dissecting his routine…just as they have since Nostradamus.

In March, Time magazine cited a gallery member who suspected Edward’s aides of eavesdropping on the audience before the show and gleaning information to pass on to him. ”It just wasn’t journalism,” Edward says about the story. ”I look at magazines like that now, and I don’t buy what people write…. [How can you], if you’ve been on the receiving end of something…that’s just blatantly false?” (”That’s amusing coming from someone whose entire performance is false,” says the writer of the offending article, Leon Jaroff.)

Crossing Over With John Edward
  • TV Show