Tyler Henry isn’t the first person to launch a lucrative career by supposedly talking to spirits on TV, but he’s probably the youngest. The 20-year-old whom you may know from his successful show on E! as the “Hollywood Medium,” or from Jezebel as something akin to a modern-day snake oil salesman, refers to his supposed ability to communicate with the dead as a gift. But reading the memoir he released this week, Between Two Worlds: Lessons from the Other Side, it seems that what he has is much more like a curse. Imagine the personal hell of being bombarded by dead people with the most useless, banal information that seems to only serve to signal their continued bland existence and soothe people with things they already know.
Take, for example, a message Henry supposedly received from a woman with a raspy voice (“what you’d call ‘a character’”) while he was asleep: “Tell your mom there’s a flower for her at my funeral.” He recounts that his mother then “barged” into his room and he informed her of this vision that had occurred “moments ago.” His mother, it turns out, had just returned from a funeral that she hadn’t informed her family she would be attending. There she had received a flower and a note thanking her for her friendship.
In other words, the raspy character’s supposed message was irrelevant because Henry’s mother was already aware of the information. She already knew there was a flower at the funeral she had already returned from. Please don’t waste our time, dead people, by stating the obvious. As you know well, we only have so long on this earth and we have a lot of stuff to accomplish before joining you on the other side.
Then there’s Henry’s grandmother, who soon after her death tells Henry, “There won’t be much, but the necklace in the brown box is yours. It’s just stuff. I will see you again.” The telling of this anecdote is particularly sloppy. On the same page, Henry notes:
Up until that point, I had never understood that messages could be delivered without words. These messages came in the form of pictures, which initially had little personal meaning: a gold necklace in a wood box, which transformed into a colorful ladybug and a burst of red roses.
But by his account, though, his dead grandmother did use words. The words were: “There won’t be much, but the necklace in the brown box is yours.” They were dead words, words that smelled like mildew, but they were words all the same. Henry goes on to describe a ladybug that attached itself to his cousin’s hand as they buried his grandmother at the cemetery and dozens of roses placed in front of his grandmother’s casket (flowers at a funeral—imagine!). These were signs of his grandmother’s presence, he says. It seems, though, that in death his grandmother became an inefficient communicator if she was imparting visions of vague symbols he’d later encounter with no added significance, just “proof” of her presence. Get it together, granny, and give something concrete and useful! (The necklace she supposedly referred to was one of the few physical items she left behind blah blah blah blah—you couldn’t possibly still be invested in this story, right?)
There’s also this anecdote from a public reading that happened as Henry was starting his career:
As I focused on this man, a whole group of father figures came through, acknowledging that they had all suffered heart conditions. All of them wanted me to mention the man’s own susceptibility. As I rambled on without any visible validation from him, his wife interrupted. “He’s had multiple heart surgeries,” she said. “And heart conditions run in his family. He’s just not speaking up!”
If we believe this story—and we shouldn’t!—the man was already well aware of this information. Imagine your grandfather coming through to remind you that you have brown eyes or are prone to room-clearing gas. Go away again, grandpa, and don’t come back until you have the precise coordinates of ancient buried treasure or next week’s Powerball numbers.
All of these stories, and so many more in Between Two Worlds, are meant to illustrate the importance of validation—certifiable “proof” that supposedly only spirits could know that serves to cast away any doubt that Henry’s just making shit up and preying on vulnerable, grieving people. Though occasionally these otherworldly entities convey insight that can actually be used in life (the existence of as-yet-undetected cancer, for example), generally what Henry describes are closed loops: He says he’s hearing spirits, the spirits say things their loved ones already know, the loved ones leave feeling better. “Spirits seem to come through, in part, based on the intention of the living to communicate with them. The more open a person is, the more likely they are to be receptive to a ‘spiritual experience,” Henry writes. Gee, I wonder why that is.
Henry, who at one point describes himself as a “humble conduit for greater forces at play,” lays out his modest goals like this: “Whether in Hanford or Hollywood, my intention will always be the same: to show as many people as I can that love lasts forever.”
Of course what he doesn’t mention is that his intention is also to make money. He claims he initially had reservations about charging people for his services, but clearly resolved those in the time between starting his readings at a local new age store in his hometown of Hanford, California, and getting his own show on E!. He doesn’t describe that process. There’s a lot, in fact, that he leaves unexamined, even when he flags its weirdness. He describes his first paranormal vision as occurring when he was 10 and he knew his grandmother was dying. He signaled that to his mother, and “wordlessly” she gathered her things and headed to the door. He returns to this a few pages later, wondering why a grown woman trusted the words of a 10-year-old who had never previously claimed to possess psychic powers. “Did she have a ‘knowingness’ herself, that what I had said was true?” he asks on the page.
This question is never answered, but as Henry’s slim tome progresses, the picture of him as a coddled only child sharpens. His mother accompanies him to all of his readings and show tapings, and his sense of self-entitlement demands he be taken at his word. Sure, he’s aware that there are skeptics and haters—the celebrity mediums that preceded him, like John Edward and Theresa Caputo, have been targets of scathing criticism. Henry, whose show gets millions of viewers a week and whose livelihood depends on the general public’s trust in his gift, assures us time and again that he’s proven himself repeatedly—without, of course, actually producing any solid evidence beyond the anecdotal.
Sometimes the syntax imparting of this proof is dubious itself. “As I mentioned, to increase the show’s authenticity, production went to great lengths to ensure that I never knew the identity of the celebrities I was scheduled to read—as I prefer it,” he writes of Hollywood Medium. But why would he need to “increase” the show’s authenticity if his gift is real and his claims are true? I think what he meant to write was:
As I mentioned, to increase the show’s ““authenticity”” (wink emoji)...
Henry presents himself as the perfect conduit whose powers never fail him. If there’s anything hazy in a reading, he assures you it’s through no fault of his own. He writes: “My job is to deliver what I feel and see as best as I can, and the rest is up to the spirit communicating and the client validating. If a spirit is unclear, or a client just doesn’t get it, there isn’t much I can do!” It’s not him, world, it’s you.
Taken at face value with credulity, Henry draws a fairly interesting parallel between being a medium and queerness. Henry never specifically states his sexual orientation, though certain passages read almost allegorically. Chapter 2 of his book is called “Coming Out: The Psychic Closet,” he discusses his father’s struggle coming to terms with his son’s psychic abilities, the new age store he sets up as his professional home base is a “sanctuary for alternative people” (replete with cliques), and, most outrageously, he uses phrases like “open receptacle” and “passive recipient” to describe his so-called gift. If you had any doubt, being medium apparently is similar to being a big bottom.
When Henry does readings on his show, the stories come out in drips and fragments, buoyed by his clients’ “validation.” His book is similarly narratively askew—it’s a rather perfunctory story of a golden child whose ability quickly enchants the masses, told with very little humility (though he assures you repeatedly that this is all “humbling” and at one point has the courage to admit, “Though I’m a medium, I’m also subject to the mysteries of the universe, just like anybody else”). The last few chapters are little more than bullet points of spiritual mumbo jumbo that, even if we believe him, is anecdotal evidence from one man’s perspective and not at all a trustworthy reflection of the mechanics of the spiritual realm. It will take hard evidence to show Henry as the fraud that I suspect he is, but without the mysterious ways of spirits (not to mention his production team) to hide behind as he tells this story, Henry is at least exposed at last for the incompetent storyteller that he is.