Return of the Grief Vampire Tyler Henry

Susan Gerbic

August 2016 is upon us. Yes, I know that you are all thinking: What could be so important about that month other than the birthday of the Amazing Randi? Happy eighty-eighth, Randi! Well in case you missed it, August 10 was the first episode of season two of The Hollywood Medium with Tyler Henry. I know—how could you have missed it? E! Network was promoting him like he was … well, someone pretty special. Not that he had actually solved any cold cases or anything. But he had managed to make a lot of B-list celebs cry and say “Wow, there is no way he could have known that.”

For the few of you who do not know of this new amazing link to the dead, Tyler Henry Koelewyn was working as a clairvoyant for the Hanford, California, Cosmic Corral, a new-age shop, back in 2012. Sometime after that Koelewyn was picked up by the E! Network, which had been looking for a young psychic to design a reality show around. They selected Koelewyn, and he became Tyler Henry, Hollywood Medium. His first season aired in January 2016, and E! quickly started the media hype. Henry was shown speaking to all the E! celebrities and in Hollywood “Who’s Hot—Who’s Hip—Who’s It!” type of articles. Henry got celebrity endorsements from Dr. Phil, who seems to have never met a psychic he didn’t like, and the Kardasians, whom we all know as the elite of the “why are you famous” world.

I’ve written about Tyler Henry several times, first in January 2016 explaining how I had first learned of Henry at about the same time the rest of America in “Grief Vampires Don’t Come Out Only at Night.” After that article ran, eight more critical articles quickly were published by Jerry Coyne, Sharon Hill, Steven Novella, and five other notable skeptics. In April, Mark Edward and I took a look at episode number three in season one and analyzed the “hits.” What we discovered was that Henry did not appear to have beforehand knowledge of who he was going to be reading for. Everything that they showed (remember they are only showing the best of the best) could easily be cold reading, and the sitters could either be in on it (remember they are getting a lot of publicity from this) or the sitters could have been reading more into what Henry told them. Comparing what was actually said by Henry to what the sitter actually heard were always two different things.

So now Hollywood Medium season two is out. Radar Online is reporting that season one “averaged 1.6 million viewers through its first five episodes” and that Henry “signed a multi-million-dollar contract to return for Season 2.” And don’t forget that Henry has penned his autobiography, Between TWO Worlds: Lessons from the Other Side, available in Kindle, Hard-cover, and Audio.

Recently people have been bringing articles written by Jezebel’s Bobby Finger to my attention. Finger appears to be of the opinion that Henry is a fraud. The two articles I’ve seen so far are tagged “Bullshit.” One article from January 25, 2016, is titled “In E!’s Hollywood Medium, a 20-Year-Old Bullshits His Way into the Homes of Celebrities.” The latest article, published August 25, 2016, is titled “Hollywood Medium Cemented Its Status as the Worst Show on Television Last Night.” The article features a very annoying gif of Henry laughing with the caption “laughing all the way to the bank,” which shares the screen with a ghostly image of Carolyn Bessette Kennedy.

Finger reports on a reading Henry gave to Carole Radziwill, who is related to Kennedy and was a close friend. Apparently Finger isn’t buying Henry’s innocent act or the claim that Henry does not know who he is going to be reading for in advance. Finger points out that when Henry sits down with Radziwill he tells her, “I don’t know what you do for a living. I don’t watch much TV.” Finger rightly points out Henry just gave away that he knows Radziwill is on TV; she is a cast member of Real Housewives of New York, which is on the Bravo Channel and is owned by the same parent company as E! Finger seems to think that Henry is hot reading. In other words, he thinks Henry is getting info ahead of time (maybe from Google on his phone in the car on the way there?) and is dishing it out in little bits to the sitters, allowing them to fill in the details. If this is true, it isn’t the way he operated in season one. I supposed it might be a good idea to see the same reading that Finger is reporting on. Thankfully with Amazon and $2.99, I had the show in minutes.

Remember three very important things when you choose to do the same as I’m about to do. One, we onlookers have the benefit of not being emotionally involved in this conversation; it is highly emotional being a believer in this situation feeling that in minutes you are about to be in touch with a dear loved one. Two, we also have the ability to pause, rewind, and review over and over again, which is something that can undo the best of these psychic performers. And three, remember that millions of dollars are riding on Henry’s performance. All those E! employees’ jobs are seriously invested in this series continuing. They are not looking to prove whether Henry is genuine or not. They just want to make him look as good as possible. So what you are seeing in these shows are only the best—high emotions and all. These readings last for quite some time, and a lot is not usable; otherwise it would be on air.

Radziwill’s reading begins at thirty-one minutes into the forty-three-minute show. It starts with Henry walking up to a very swanky front door in New York City, excited to see who the client is. Radziwill’s voiceover explains that she has become more skeptical over the years as her story has become more public, but that she is still very open to psychics. She saw Henry’s notebook and said, “Is that the file on me? It should be bigger.” Henry in his voiceover says, “I have read for many skeptics and turned them into believers.” Henry does say that he does not know what she does for a living; he does not watch much TV or anything. “It could be Broadway for all I know.” This is the point that Finger was talking about. I’m not so sure; it looks like a natural statement to make because he does read for a lot of TV personalities, and this woman is obviously wealthy, confident, and looks like she would be in front of a camera.

She gives him what looks to be a woman’s gold band, saying it was a gift. He immediately states that the ring is a reference to someone who died tragically at an early age. She quickly is brought to tears and states, “Oh my God.” Henry goes on about the strong personality of this woman, how she had presence, and then restated that this was a young woman. He asked if Radziwill knew anyone that could fit that, and she said “yeah [pause] a girlfriend [pause] her name is Carolyn.” These pauses are important to note. This is where Henry is just letting the sitter talk and dropping all the information he is going to need in the rest of the reading. And Radziwill does exactly that. She drops everything about who gave it to her, when, and that she died in a plane crash. Henry just listens, nods as if he already knew all this, and smiles. He then goes into his normal feel-good shtick that she is happy on the other side, and she is present around Radziwill “like a sister.” But if you rewind just a minute earlier, Radziwill is explaining how the ring was the last Christmas gift from Carolyn. So obviously a gold ring (that he is examining closely in his hand) from one woman to another woman would probably mean they were very close. She says “I love how you made a connection to my best girlfriend; it’s amazing.” Henry nods and says “definitely.”

She next hands him a watch saying that it has a lot of meaning to her. Henry looks at the watch for a bit and finally says “off of this object, I’m not sure I’m picking up anything” and asks, “Who does this object belong to?” She reveals that it belonged to her late husband. Then she goes on to explain that he died of cancer three weeks after her girlfriend Carolyn. He explains that it’s okay that Radziwill’s husband didn’t come through and that they are probably friends on the other side and Carolyn had the stronger voice today probably because she had a stronger message to give to Radziwill that day.

And I guess it is pretty important, because Carolyn starts referring to a dog that has also passed away—a dog that was like a child to Carolyn. Again, Henry remains quiet and in the silence Radziwill fills in the details about how the dog died of a broken heart a year later. No mention to the dog’s name or breed or well … anything. If he had gotten a name or some kind of hit, then be sure that the editors would have left it in, and it would be part of the show’s trailer. But alas the show jumps to Henry talking about Radziwill’s career.

Carolyn gives Henry a lot of sweet loving platitudes to tell Radziwill and adds that she wants to talk about a “TV Show and reality.” Radziwill calls that a hit by saying “I am on a reality show.” I thought his statement could have fit just about anything—that they used to watch a TV show together, that she will be getting a TV show, or any number of things. The word reality could have been used to mean a TV show type or in other ways. Radziwill fills in more details about her career history. Henry agrees with everything as if it all fit.

And that is the end of the reading. The show does a bit where Radziwill talks to the camera after Henry has left wherein she states that it is wonderful to know that “when you are alone, you really aren’t alone.” The music at this point is happier and more upbeat, cueing the viewers that this is another feel-good moment.

Going back to Bobby Finger believing that Henry knows very well who he is going to read for in advance, I can’t see any evidence of that. As in season one, it’s just cold reading. He says that the ring had something to do with a “reference to someone who died tragically at an early age,” which is pretty general, keeping in mind that he is holding and looking at the ring. He then talks about the dead woman being close to a dog that also died. Who hasn’t known a dog that has died? Henry didn’t pick up on anything to do with Radziwill’s husband, blowing that off as though he had nothing to tell her. Only Carolyn, whose important message was mentioning her dog, came through. And nothing else except how Carolyn is proud of Radziwill’s career choices.

I’m going on the record here and stating that Henry has not changed. He appears to be cold reading. He does not need to Google people beforehand, because he just needs to throw out general statements and then remain silent while the sitter fills in the details. His skill lies in his ability to nod in agreement to every statement as if he already knew that. His repertoire of facial expressions is wonderfully entertaining. And what a wonderful skill he has in silence—something that most of these grief vampires have lost in their rush to throw up as much information as possible for the sitter to grasp onto.

Finger and I both agree that this is not innocent fun. He writes, “to spread a message that is almost without fail, “I’m fine,” doesn’t just con their desperate, mournful targets out of a few hard-earned dollars, it does a disservice to the memories of those they lost.” The sooner Hollywood understands that this isn’t entertainment the better. But I’m not feeling hopeful at the moment; Koelewyn has over 167,000 likes on his Facebook page. When you read the desperate pleadings from his fans hoping to connect with their deceased loved ones, you will probably feel sick. If not Henry, then they will find someone else to believe in. I know that Finger and my actions probably have little effect, yet we keep trying anyway. Thank you, Hollywood, for giving us the best and the worst in “entertainment.”

Susan Gerbic

Affectionately called the Wikipediatrician, Susan Gerbic is the cofounder of Monterey County Skeptics and a self-proclaimed skeptical junkie. Susan is also founder of the Guerrilla Skepticism on Wikipedia (GSoW) project. She is a Fellow of the Committee for Skeptical Inquiry, and writes for her column, Guerilla Skepticism, often. You can contact her through her website.