Los Angeles Times
The two-bedroom condominium had been on the market for six months, and no one could understand why. Not in this market, not this condo. Other units had sold for a price similar to the one asked, but there it sat. No offers. Not one.
The owners became increasingly frustrated, and finally one of them asked a friend, Bill Burns, to come have a look. Burns is a professional psychic. He walked through the lovely condominium and said it was occupied by several spirits.
Using Post-it notes, which he placed on walls to help make contact with the spirits, Burns talked to them about the reasons they were staying. He told them that staying was not such a good idea if they wanted to learn their life lessons. He encouraged them to leave -- and, he said, they did.
Within a week, there was an offer on the place.
In Los Angeles, we like real estate stories almost as much as we like ghost stories. If you tell this story to someone, there is a reasonable chance they will tell you a similar story right back -- a house or an apartment that didn't feel quite right, that was then cleared by a psychic or spiritualist.
Mind readers and spoon benders have had their place in the media sun off and on since Cassandra's day. There are dozens of psychics in the Los Angeles area -- 70 are listed in the Greater Los Angeles Yellow Pages -- ranging from Madame So and So with the neon palm print in her bungalow window to spiritualists who advise high-powered executives and charge thousands of dollars for classes and retreats.
The existence of psychic abilities has always been open to debate, but many people claim to have found answers through psychics, hence the enduring ubiquitousness of the psychic industry.
Burns has been a working psychic for 21 years. He has done his time on radio and television, made the rounds during the disco '80s as a party psychic, has worked murder investigations and been mentioned in books and magazines. But there is no neon, no candles, no chanting.
There are seminars, there are high-profile clients, there are tapes and workshops. To attend one of his monthly lectures will set you back $15. A house clearing runs $275, and he provides the Post-its. "I'm not very dramatic," he says, explaining his use of Post-its when communicating with lingering spirits, "I'm just very effective."
The Bill Burns Organization, as his business is called, is located in a nondescript office building on Santa Monica Boulevard in West Hollywood. His own office is dominated by a wall fish tank and some nice modern art. There are mints and candies in a bowl on the coffee table in the waiting area; there are beige sofas of synthetic leather. No crystals or symbols of the third eye, no beads or incense. It could be the office of an accountant. Yet in terms of psychic services, Burns is pretty much one-stop shopping.
Burns offers what he calls past-life readings, current life readings, spirit clearings, as well as lectures and tapes. He claims he can help businesses decrease turnover, managers deal with personnel problems, parents understand difficult children better and couples get the most out of their marriages.
He says he can tell you about your past lives and channel the dear departed, although only for emotional closure, never for information about the next life, or anything else for that matter. Answers, he says, come from within. "And besides," he says, "spirits don't know any more than they did when they were living."
Burns, 63, favors polo shirts and Friday casual pants. He has a small diamond stud in one ear and glasses. He rides a BMW custom turbo motorcycle. When articulating his unconventional view of the universe, he speaks in complete sentences that stack themselves neatly into paragraphs, and you can hear Boston, his hometown, in most of them.
Burns believes that we are all spiritual beings having human experiences and that we come to this life with a chosen life lesson to learn and attributes that will help us learn it. He believes he has an ability to sense things about people, about their essential spirits and their lives past and present, that helps him offer concrete suggestions about what a person should do to fulfill themselves in this life.
"I just do what I do," he says. "It's up to my clients to do the real work."
Burns does about three readings -- for individuals, couples, families, children and businesses -- a day. He performs spirit clearings , from buildings and people, three or four times a month, and he says he is pretty much continually releasing one sort of spirit or another over the phone, or helping longtime clients do it themselves.
"It's a living," he says. "Barely."
NO QUICK ANSWERS
Twenty years ago, things were a little more flush -- he did television and radio, got attention from national magazines. But things and people go in and out of fashion, and with so many telephone and Internet psychics available, he says, there is a desire for quick answers, for bells and whistles, and this is not what he does.
His methods are simple. At a first reading, the client states his or her name and then Burns spends 45 minutes telling them about themselves, where they are on their spiritual path, what is helping them, what is hindering them; the last 15 minutes are reserved for specific questions. Every session is taped; for the $275 fee, the client gets the tape and 30 days in which to call Burns with follow-up questions.
Bill Cusack, an actor, has worked with Burns since 1996, when Cusack's fiancee broke off their engagement. Cusack was devastated and wanted to know what had happened. Within an hour with Burns, Cusack says, "I had all the answers."
Not just the obvious ones -- the couple had become engaged after dating only six weeks -- but what Cusack considered deeper issues. "I had been looking for a relationship to define and give me purpose, and Bill told me that in this incarnation, that's not appropriate -- I'm supposed to find my purpose in me."
If it sounds as if this was something one might have learned by simply watching a little more "Oprah," Cusack struggles to explain why it wasn't. "It was all so specific to exactly what I was experiencing," he says, "that it was a complete revelation to me."
Bettina Chandler, wife of Otis Chandler, a former publisher of this newspaper, has known Burns since 1989, when she contacted him at the suggestion of her manicurist. "I feel he has a way of looking at my inner spirit and showing me how I am stopping myself from being who I can be," she says. Over the years, she has recommended Burns to many of her friends, and almost all, including her husband, have visited him at least once. Burns' relationship with the Chandlers is mentioned several times in "Privileged Son: The Rise and Fall of the L.A. Times Dynasty."
Chandler herself consults Burns every four or five months "to keep myself honest" and considers Burns her "spiritual personal trainer," although she adds that the term "spiritual" is limiting because Burns does not expect people to hold with one view of the universe or another.
Although he was born on Christmas, it was not with a caul on his head, nor are there any childhood tales of Burns predicting disaster or good fortune. In 1971, when he was 30, he picked up a book that dealt with psychics. He cannot remember the name of the book -- "I have a terrible memory. It's a hazard of this job" -- but he does remember how it obsessed him, stirring him to read more and more about psychic abilities until he began to wonder if this was something he could do.
He began giving readings in Boston, on the street, for friends, at psychic conferences, and soon found he had a talent not only for explaining people to themselves but also for helping them move forward. He visited Los Angeles in 1976 and fell in love with the city; he moved out West a year later.
People ask Burns what it's like to be psychic, how he experiences the tangible world, and he will occasionally mention the limitations of language. Burns says he is able to turn his psychic abilities on and off; he is capable of moving through a crowd without picking up on anyone's thoughts or mood except in the normal way, though when he is having an intense conversation with someone, it is more difficult because he is focusing on that person.
He has a hard time developing peer friendships, he says, because he thinks people are intimidated by him. It's not that he'll offer unsolicited readings, but many people ask him things and are not always happy with what they learn. "Bill tells you things that are sometimes hard to hear," says Bettina Chandler.
When giving a reading, he says, he rarely "sees" things; he just knows. That you had a certain kind of relationship with your father, that you will not be at your current place of employment for very long, that the problems you are having in your marriage reflect the problems your mother had in her marriage.
Burns' language has a pop therapy ring to it -- "You have recently had a breakthrough regarding male authority figures," he told one woman, "and that will set you free as long as you don't second-guess it" -- only the "issues" are identified immediately, and with no effort on the part of the client.(Burns will often recommend that a client get into therapy if they need to work through a certain issue with someone else.)
But there are large parts of his work that bear more resemblance to exorcism than to counseling.
A year ago, the daughter of longtime clients asked him to meet her 3-year-old daughter. From the time she was an infant, the woman says now, the child was unmanageable. "Even when I was nursing her, she would pound me and pinch me and I would think, 'She is trying to hurt me.' But I was a first-time mother, and I figured it was just postpartum anxiety or something."
The behavior grew worse; when a second child was born, the woman realized that her first daughter was "not normal." Now a toddler, she was destructive and physically abusive, to others and herself. "She never slept. She would writhe around moaning. I was afraid to leave her alone with the baby."
The family lives in a conservative town in the Northeast, the father is Catholic. They were in contact with a child psychologist in Boston when Burns came to visit the girl. While the grandparents played with the little girl on one side of the room, he sat with the parents on the other side and, using his Post-its to make connection, says he spoke with the spirit he said was inhabiting the girl. He encouraged it to go and, he says, it went. But the nighttime activity remained. Burns communicated with another spirit, encouraged it to leave. And from that day on, the mother says, her child has been a completely different person.
Since then, the woman has shared her experience with select friends. "We are very conservative," the woman says, "so people tend to believe us."
Some of these friends have gone on to consult with Burns, several of whom have brought their children. Not all had spirits, though a few did, he says, but in doing a child's reading, Burns says, he can often help the parents teach more effectively.
"I tell you what you have brought into this life and the things that are going to help or hinder you," he says. "So if you have one sort of child or another, I can help you see what sort of things are going to work and what aren't."
Burns is not particularly interested in whether people "believe" in him or not. Instead, he sees himself more as an advocate for the human empowerment movement. He believes people need to take more responsibility for their actions and that if they understand what they are here to do, this will be easier.
To that end, he holds monthly seminars with such titles as "Are You Wasting Your Life?" and "How to Start Your Life Over at Any Time." He flies to New York and Boston to visit clients and deliver similar talks. He cannot tell you exactly what his life lesson will be because, he says, a psychic can't do a reading of himself; he's not objective enough.
This is a true story and also a ghost story. The world as Bill Burns experiences it is different, perhaps, than the one most people experience. If, that is, you believe what he says.
He thinks that many professional psychics are frauds, which doesn't mean they aren't also psychic -- most people, he says, don't get into this line of work without some inkling of intuition.
But, he says, "they use their gifts one way. I use mine another. I want people to take responsibility, to stop looking for easy answers."
Copyright 2004 The Times Mirror Company; Los Angeles Times
All Rights Reserved
Los Angeles Times
June 26, 2004 Saturday
FOR SOME OF HOLLYWOOD'S ELITE, the center of power is not Asia de Cuba at the Mondrian Hotel, but a half mile away, above a traffic school on Santa Monica Boulevard in West Hollywood. This is the nondescript office of Bill Burns, a psychic whose clients include top stars, agents, and execs at networks and studios (not to mention the wife of and ex-presidential candidate). “Bill,” says the producer of a major ‘80s sitcom, “is like Oz.”
Here’s a peek behind the curtain: For an hour-long session costing $275, the barrel-chested 61-year-old Boston native gives insiders a sixth sense about the biz–though he says he never reads Variety and has seen only three movies since Doctor Zhivago 37 years ago. Working from the name or photograph of a person a client wants “profiled,” Burns enters a trancelike state.
“I get an instant knowing about who they are in relationship to the question I’m being asked,” he says. “I can immediately and intuitively visualize the person’s motivations, hot buttons, reliability, and integrity.”
Since moving to L.A. in 1979, Burns has developed a loyal clientele several of whom spoke to Entertainment Weekly about his skills (while declining to identify themselves).
A literary agent says she routinely uses Burns to screen her list of authors seeking representation. “He told me one (potential client)‘ can be big if he wanted to be,’ and the writer later won a Pulitzer Prize.”
One top TV agent consulted Burns on where to pitch a new series. “I asked him to choose between ABC and NBC, and he told me to take my pitch to CBS first,” he says. “He was right.”
When the star of one of TV’s longest-running sitcoms asked why she was finding it hard to make friends on the set, Burns says, he told her she had become intimidating to her cast-mates and suggested she drop defensive behaviors.
A cable exec recalls bringing Burns pictures of her two bosses. “He said the first boss was in over his head and was going to be fired, which he was, and he also warned me that the replacement boss wasn’t going to mesh with me,” says the suit, who then successfully negotiated her way out of the company.
Burns, a former corporate trainer for a Boston insurance company, claims he first noticed his psychic gifts in 1971 after sobering up. “As a drunk, I couldn’t have harnessed those abilities,” says Burns, who soon began practicing his visualizations with strangers in $5.00 readings. Today, he estimates that more than half of his clients are in showbiz. Some make appointments under an alias, he says, and a few arrive wearing disguises. (He never makes house calls.) While Burns says most questions are work-related, his clients insist that he doesn’t do their jobs for them. “If I had to call Bill just to ask him which scripts to buy, then I shouldn’t be in this business,” says the cable executive, who nonetheless sought advice about which up-and-coming producers the network should approach for deals.
Despite recent allegations of deceptive practices against the company fronted by TV pitch-woman and self-proclaimed “shaman” Miss Cleo, Burns has seen no drop in business. “I’m grateful for those who are charlatans they distract the naysayers from those who are doing a serious job,” he says. “Besides, my Hollywood Clients...have a real nose for bulls.
Bill Burns is a popular psychic based in the Los Angeles area, but also takes up clients worldwide in places such as New York New Hampshire, and even London. Bill travels to a different location each month where he gives psychic readings, does spirit clearings, gives lectures, and even channels the dead (as seen above on the FOX TV special: powers of the paranormal!)