Ari Chavez chats with high profile spiritualist and the identity behind the successful US TV show Medium, Allison DuBois, about connecting with the dead, dealing with sceptics and raising her own family.
Allison DuBois is a 21st century version of the table-tapping Victorian spiritualist, one with a global audience of believers and sceptics. She rose to fame in 2005, with the Emmy-award winning television show Medium, starring Patricia Arquette, which is ostensibly based on her life’s work.
Medium featured Arquette, a suburban mother of three like DuBois, using her psychic abilities, including being able to speak to dead people, foretell the future and revisit events in her dreams, to work with law enforcement officials to solve a series of grisly crimes. Despite the show’s suspend-belief premise, it was a staggering success. It ran from 2005 – 2011 on NBC and CBS in the United States, and was picked up for broadcast in numerous countries, including Australia. It delivered DuBois a global legion of fans and detractors and the searing fame of the modern celebrity.
DuBois had complicated beginnings. Born in 1972 in Arizona, her family life seems to have been an unhappy one. Her parents divorced when she was a baby, and her mother re-married only to divorce her stepfather when DuBois was twelve years old. She saw her stepfather once after the divorce, on the street with his new family, and never saw him again. She visited her biological father on Saturdays only, and he passed away in 2002. For a self-described ‘Daddy’s Girl’ the fathers in her life appear to have been brutally casual with their attentions. A bright child, who once wanted to study law at a prestigious university, DuBois dropped out of high school without graduating, although she later attended university and earned a B.A.
At around sixteen years of age, DuBois moved out of home and there were years of partying and running with a wild crowd before she met the man who would become her husband, George Joe Klupar. They married in October, 1993, and their first daughter, Aurora, was born nine months later. The couple went on two have two more girls, Fallon and Sophia.
Marriage and children settled her and she went on to study at Arizona State University, while she raised her three children. After graduating in 2000, she worked as an intern for the Maricopa Country Attorney’s Office, where her duties included cataloguing crime scene photos and filing. DuBois says she had flashes of information about what had happened to the victims when she was sorting their photos, a continuation of the psychic tuning in that began much earlier when her Great Grandfather died and then appeared to her in a vision.
“I was six and I thought that when I saw him in the casket earlier that day that maybe he was taking a nap, and he looked good and healthy when he stood in front of me so I thought that meant he was feeling better,” DuBois explains.
“I didn’t really understand that death was final. I thought he got better, so I was a little confused. He said, ‘tell your mother I’m with her. I’m still with you and I’m not in pain any more’. My Great Grandfather had died of intestinal cancer so it was a very agonising death for him, and my Mum had taken care of him so it affected her a lot.
I didn’t know other people couldn’t do it, I just thought my Mum was clueless. I thought she just didn’t get it but I thought everyone else I was looking at could do it too, because you never really have those conversations with people when you’re that age. You’re a kid. You want to roller skate or do something that kids do.”
“You remember the faces of all the children who were victims. You remember what it felt like when they were dying because you had to feel it in order to convey how they died. Sometimes it gets triggered when you see a child who resembles that victim.”
As DuBois grew older, she says her gift developed to the extent that she saved both herself and a friend from a certain death after following her intuition.
“When I was seventeen I moved the bed from the south wall to the east wall and my friend Barbara and I were going out that night and she said, ‘Why did you do that?’ and I said, ‘Well, a voice told me to move the bed so I moved the bed’ and she was like, ‘Oh, you’re so weird’.
So we went out and we came back to sleep because she was spending the night and a truck drove through my bedroom wall that night, right where the bed had been. It would have killed us because it was fully in the room, and where I had moved the bed was the only place that we could have survived. So I always listen to that voice, and don’t care about what sceptics think because I don’t see a bunch of cynics out there saving my life.”
The business of dying and trauma has been a lucrative one for DuBois. She has built a far-reaching empire on the strength of the high profile Medium has given her, touring the globe to sell her paranormal abilities to true believers at packed venues, and offering expensive private readings via phone or in person. In an act of marketing genius, the people who attend her seminars get bumped to the top of the list for a private reading, otherwise there is a very long wait. In Australia, upcoming seminar tickets cost $US115.00 – $US180.00 each. Private readings cost from $500.00 to $1500.00, depending on the length and location.
DuBois is a high profile and successful representative of an industry that deals with people at their most vulnerable – grieving widows, victims of crime, distraught parents of missing children and those who simply need guidance about broken hearts or finances. There are those who swear by DuBois’ abilities, saying she has told them things no one else knows, that she has connected with a loved one and brought them closure, that she has offered invaluable guidance in turbulent times.
And then there are the sceptics, who say there is no scientific proof for psychic ability or mediumship. They accuse DuBois of preying on vulnerable people and cold reading, or simply guessing, and query her assertions that she has helped to solve numerous criminal cases. Disconcertingly, the police she has claimed to work with over the years deny her involvement in any of the cases she lists, and some family members of the crime victims she says she’s ‘tuned into’ dismiss the information she has provided as inaccurate. DuBois is sanguine about the criticism levelled at her, and there is much of it, particularly on the internet where debate rages as to her authenticity.
“I’ve dealt with them [critics] for fourteen years. I’m a grown woman now. I’m older than I was when everything started happening with the show…”
“I’ve dealt with them [critics] for fourteen years. I’m a grown woman now. I’m older than I was when everything started happening with the show… At some point, you get to a place in life where you really don’t care what they think. I wish them well. I know they will find out when they die. I hope that they find enlightenment before that happens, only because it makes it easier to communicate once you do die, but I don’t actually care if they believe in it or not. We’re all different. Some people get it and some people don’t.
“As for the scientific aspect of it, I was in a laboratory being studied for three years by scientists. They published all the academic journals based on the tests I was put through. I jumped through all those hoops and in reality it’s like, for what? So I could say I did? So the scientists could say they couldn’t understand how I was doing what I was doing? In the end, does any of it matter? It doesn’t…I just got to the point that I didn’t care anymore…
“You can’t take it personally. You can’t care more about what other people think about you more than you care about what you think about yourself…I’m living the life I want to live, and I’m helping people. I don’t see a lot of cynics doing a lot of good for mankind. I don’t see them being the big philanthropists. I think spiritualists do more good than bad. And cynics do more bad than good.”
By any objective measurement, DuBois has made the most of her abilities and achieved a staggering level of success. Yet she seems to harbour regrets about the path she has travelled, the toll her particular gifts have taken. She has spoken often and publically about her thwarted desire to be a prosecuting attorney, the original dream of the bright little girl from a troubled home.
“I do it [mediumship] professionally, and it’s not actually what I got my degree in. I’m happy to do it because it helps people but… I’ve sat in courtrooms with people who have done the most unspeakable crimes to other human beings…it’s a lot to carry and it builds up in your soul.
“You remember the faces of all the children who were victims. You remember what it felt like when they were dying because you had to feel it in order to convey how they died. Sometimes it gets triggered when you see a child who resembles that victim. You bring through another child who died in a similar manner, and it brings back the emotions tied to the first child you brought through. They all become a part of you.”
Our oldest, Aurora, it was a little hard for her at first, because it’s hard enough when your mum can do what I do, but then it was a matter of were people trying to be her friends because they liked her, or to get into our house because their mum was a fan?
Despite her self-proclaimed psychic abilities, something DuBois didn’t appear to see coming was a trainwreck appearance on reality TV show, The Real Housewives of Beverly Hills, in 2010. DuBois, who was attending a dinner party with the Beverly Hills ladies who lunch, knocked back the cocktails and made expletive-laced and cruel predictions to the other guests, while smoking an e-cigarrette. It was a bizarre and aggressive performance, which resulted in the unravelling of a carefully cultivated and nurturing image. As the internet went into meltdown, DuBois said the show had been edited to portray her badly.
With the exception of the problematic reality TV appearance, the entertainment industry has been kind to DuBois. Medium was her entree into the celebrity world of Beverly Hills, where she and her family lived for some time. While she has enjoyed her high profile, it hasn’t always been easy for the rest of the family.
“Sophia doesn’t remember a time before the show because she grew up on the set. For her, she just thinks she’s got a family in the entertainment industry. That’s who our friends are. They’re rock stars and they’re TV personalities, so all of that is common and familiar to her. She is very well adjusted.
Our oldest, Aurora, it was a little hard for her at first, because it’s hard enough when your mum can do what I do, but then it was a matter of were people trying to be her friends because they liked her, or to get into our house because their mum was a fan? We went through that for years…We lived in Beverley Hills for a few years so she could be around other kids whose parents are known, and nobody cared who they were because everybody’s parents did something in the industry.”
After Medium finished, the family moved back to Arizona, and DuBois insists they’re just like a regular family, albeit one with a ghost on the stairs.
“We have a girl named Sarah who lives in our house, and she’ll walk up the staircase and she looks a lot like our oldest daughter, Aurora. Joe’s seen her, the girls have seen her. From behind, I’ll be walking up the stairs after her and I’ll be yelling at her, ‘Aurora, what are you going up to Sophia’s room for?’ and I get to the top of the stairs and she’s gone.
My youngest, at one point, said, ‘Tell her to go away! She’s creeping me out in my room’. So I went in there and said, ‘Sarah, you can hang out in my room. Just leave Sophia’s room. You don’t have to leave though, but just leave her alone’. It doesn’t bother me that she’s here. I’m glad that we make her comfortable.”
Although the family is comfortable with the odd ghost hanging around their house, DuBois is not keen for her daughters to enter the family business despite all three having the psychic abilities she believes are genetic.
“It runs in families and it’s not just my family. Other people who have it strong seem to have it throughout the lineage of their families…I have it on both sides of my family, which is maybe why I’m so elevated, I’m not sure. Our kids have always been able to do kind of what I do, not necessarily to the level because they’re younger, but they’ve always known where things are hidden when they were, like, two, and they knew what it was…
I don’t want them to have to build their life around it, sort of like mine’s been built around it. It’s extremely taxing, especially if you work murders, if you see dark things…I want them to have a light, happy life where they’re not thinking about murder all the time, and suicides, and bringing through people who had a rough time while they were here. I want them to be able to delve more into the joys that life has to offer, because that’s really what it’s all about.”
Despite the grisly paranormal work she specialises in, Dubois is surprisingly upbeat about dying herself, her concerns centred solely around the family she will leave behind rather than what awaits her. She seems to hold a childlike, Disney-inspired view about what her post-death experience will entail, which is at odds with her straight-talking persona.
“I’m not afraid to die, not at all,” she says cheerfully. “The only thing I’m afraid [for] is my kids when I die, or Joe if I go first. I see the living be taken apart by the dead going, and even though I know that my girls would know, and Joe would know, that I’m still there. I know it’s going to be something that, until the day they die, they’re going to miss me, they’re going to want me there. I just don’t want them to have to feel that.
“But I’m not afraid of dying. Dying’s not awful, dying’s actually pretty great because you get to revert to the age you were happiest, which is usually younger. I’m going to look great! I’m going to feel great! I get to relive all of the happiest days of my life forever. I can go back to my wedding day, I can go back to the days that my kids were born…their fifth birthday party, Disneyland with them when they were tiny. I get to do that forever, and I think that’s amazing!”
Now in her early forties, DuBois has, touchingly, already started to put things in place for the time she will no longer be around to guide her daughters.
“I’ve already written things on the back of photographs that I’ve put in frames, that I didn’t tell them about, so that when I die, I’m going to lead them to the pictures that I know they’re going to take out of the frame because I am going to push them to do that…and they’re going to turn it over and it’s going to have the message that they needed at that time from me.
So I’m already preparing for my death. But just so that they’re okay, that’s all I care about. And it’s something any mum can do, or any dad, so that when we pass, and they really need us, you have to have things you can push them to, so that they can hear us. And if they can’t hear you by you talking to them, they can read what you wrote before you died and I think that means everything.”