Dr. Richard Ireland has been many things in his time. Nightclub mind reader. Psychic sleuth. Hollywood seer. Corpse.
On this particular day, however, the "Godfather of Psychics" is merely late.
En route to an interview, the self-described "Phoenix Oracle" somehow fails to foresee that the car he is riding in will conk out in the midst of rush-hour traffic.
When Ireland finally does show up for the appointment at the University of Life Church (the New Age religious center he founded here 31 years ago), he dismisses his psychic lapse.
"I don't endeavor to discern those kinds of things," the star of stage, pulpit and after-death experience explains haughtily.
Evidently, if one has The Gift, one doesn't waste it by forecasting anything so mundane as car problems.
That may be one of the very few things this ESP VIP hasn't predicted during thirtysomething years on the tux-and-blindfold circuit. Love, sex, career, finances--during the Sixties and Seventies, it seemed no Valley clubgoer's mind was safe from the good doctor's probing third eye.
His all-knowing, all-seeing gaze even penetrated Hollywood's movie colony, where he stunned the stars during a series of appearances 20 years ago. Mae West, who eventually became Ireland's biggest booster, boasted that she rarely made a move without seeking Ireland's psychic guidance.
Even people who never set foot in nightclubs knew about Ireland back then. "Dr. Ireland has something to tell you!" screamed breathless ads from Valley entertainment pages of the period that hailed him as "the world's most renowned psychic." (Never mind that the accompanying photograph of Ireland pensively massaging his temples suggested that his real message was, "I've got a splitting headache!")
"Since he can tell you the serial number of any currency while he is blindfolded," one of his standard ads promised, imagine what he can tell YOU about YOUR future!"
Even if the logic behind that last statement doesn't hold up, nightclub customers didn't notice. They were too busy fishing dollar bills out of their wallets and scribbling questions on "ESP Grams," Ireland's copyrighted note cards.
"I was the guy that paved the road," brags Ireland. "I don't know any other psychic who dared to go onstage as early as myself. I was the guy who drove the first wagon and then all these gypsies jumped on the wagon behind me. These people like Criswell [the Fifties TV psychic] could never have emerged, I don't believe, if it hadn't been for me. That's a rather egotistical thing to say, but I've always been sort of `The Godfather' of the psychics."
This startling claim somehow overlooks the fact that some of his psychic contemporaries (such as the Amazing Kreskin and Jeane Dixon) were nationally prominent when Ireland still was only a regional celebrity.
Now semiretired from the nightclub biz, Ireland proves that you can't take the showman out of the shaman. He shows up for an interview one recent afternoon sporting shorts, a patterned shirt unbuttoned to mid paunch, and a knuckleful of flashy fingers that even Liberace might have deemed excessive. (Don't even ask about the significance of the gold "10" dangling from his neck--he didn't spend 15 years working Playboy Club shows for nothing.)
The overall effect--that of an off-duty lounge act bagging rays at poolside--is merely reinforced when Ireland comments on his own resemblance to borscht-belt funnyman Shecky Greene.
Like that comedian, Ireland's name rarely shows up on marquees anymore. Today, most of his ESP demonstrations take place on the banquet-convention circuit around the Valley, with an occasional club date in Hawaii, where he maintains a second home. Despite much evidence to the contrary, Ireland insists that he left show biz; show biz didn't leave him.
I simply haven't found a comfortable home in a Phoenix club for a period of time," explains Ireland, a long-time fixture at such bygone Phoenix niteries as the Playboy Club, the Colony Steak House and the Stein and Sirloin. "The environment has a lot to do with the success of my demonstration. I had the perfect settings at those other clubs."
In reality, Ireland's success in those settings probably had as much to do with the era as anything else. In an age when magazines were rife with then-novel reports of ESP, flying saucers, astrology, reincarnation and related ooga-booga, nightclub patrons were only too eager to tag along on Ireland's search for tomorrow.
Ireland's own foresight saga began 60-odd years ago in Columbus, Ohio, when, as a 5-year-old hospital patient, he realized he had the power."
While recuperating from eye surgery, according to his 1970 autobiography The Phoenix Oracle, he found he was able to bounce a ball off the wall and catch it even though his eyes were bandaged shut. Although stunned nurses initially believed he'd tampered with the bandages (a suspicion harbored by many who've since crossed his path), the Boy with Something Extra was off and running. I rapidly became the spectacle of the hospital and the leper child of my family," reported Ireland. Dubbed Crazy Dick" by his brothers, he forecast domestic mishaps, the arrival of drop-in visitors and even the death of a playmate in a car crash. Outraged when this last prediction came true, one neighbor child pelted Ireland's home with stones.
Some people are still throwing stones, but Ireland doesn't pay any attention.
If you don't want to accept something, you pretend like it's not there," says Ireland, no stranger to skeptical nightclub hecklers. People always try to explain away what I do. They say I have electronic bugs hidden under the table. Well, if there are bugs under the table, go find them. Then there are the people who say I've got a transistor in my tooth, something in my ear, something up my nose, you name it. Do you realize I've been doing this since I was 5 years old, before transistors were even invented?"
But who needs a transistorized bicuspid when you've got a gap in your blindfold? Or so argue some skeptics who've suggested that Ireland's much-celebrated ability to read serial numbers and messages through a blindfold might be nothing more than a trick well known to any child who's ever cheated during a game of pin the tail on the donkey. (Here's a tip: The tighter the blindfold, the better your psychic ability.)
Nay, counters Ireland. I see the bill and the numbers as if they were imprinted on the inside of my forehead," he says. The blacks are white, the whites are black. In a way it is as though I am looking at a negative." Ireland refers to this phenomenon as video x-ray clairvoyance."
Leaning back in his chair, Ireland smiles broadly. People say to me, `If you've got the power, why aren't you rich?' I always say, `I am!'" Explaining that he lives off various real estate holdings and other unspecified business activities, Ireland claims he's always donated" his nightclub earnings to his New Age church.
I haven't received a salary from the church in over 20 years, and even then that was just $100 a week," he says. As a minister, I believe that this power is of a spiritual origin and I don't believe in using my gift for monetary gain. If I did, I would own Las Vegas by now."
In 1970, he claims, he came close to doing just that when he publicized a Vegas lounge appearance by holding a press conference at the Aladdin Hotel's roulette wheel. Although no betting occurred, Ireland swears he successfully picked 15 consecutive winning numbers, a feat so extraordinary that it supposedly made headlines in the gambling capital.
Unfortunately, Ireland didn't save a single article about this spectacular exhibition. And neither, apparently, did the city's largest newspaper: A call to the Las Vegas Sun fails to turn up any mention of the event.
Ditto the Aladdin Hotel. A spokesperson for the Aladdin claims it's highly doubtful" the casino would ever have sanctioned a demonstration like the one Ireland describes. This man says he picked 15 numbers in a row?!" the spokesperson gasps, unsuccessfully stifling a laugh. I can't imagine anyone doing that--you're lucky if it hits once!"
Roulette notwithstanding, Ireland says his own number has come up a lot more than once.
Eight times I've been pronounced dead," claims Ireland, a hemophiliac. They're hauling me off to the morgue and I get right back up. It scares the hell out of everybody!"
Laughing, Ireland sifts through some papers on a desk in an unsuccessful attempt to find an elusive death certificate that's around here somewhere." It bothers my mother that I keep dying all the time," he says. I promised her that the next time I'll get it right."
With luck, he just might get a little help from a member of his nightclub audiences.
I've been shot at three times, strangled once, stabbed onstage and threatened more times than I care to remember," reports Ireland.
He claims he's helped send at least one clubgoer to jail for murder after picking up bad vibes from the culprit's ESP Gram. (Why anyone guilty of a murder would then attend a nightclub mind-reading act is a mystery even Ireland can't explain.)
But if this psychic Spillane pulls no punches recalling his crime-busting exploits, he is considerably more close-mouthed about supplying specific details of these crimes.
Asked which police departments might verify these amazing feats of sleuthing, Ireland purses his lips and extends a cautionary finger. We sort of have a bargain not to talk about these things," he explains in a conspiratorial whisper, making himself sound like a prime candidate for some federal psychic-witness-relocation program. If some of these people behind bars knew I was the one who had fingered them, well, I might not have lived to die eight times."
However, Ireland throws caution to the wind during a church service just days later when he tells his congregation that he's personally responsible for sending ol' Charlie Manson" up the river. No one seems the least bit surprised by this shockeroo. This is, after all, the same man who claims he hung out with Gandhi, and gave Marilyn Monroe a lift home from a party on the night of her death. (She seemed fine when we dropped her off," Ireland recalls.)
Oddly, Ireland can't produce a snapshot to document his remarkable friendships with Mahatma and Marilyn, even though he seems to have photographs of every other celebrity he's ever met, up to and including Louis Nye and Lainie Kazan.
Ireland has a far more intimate relationship with two other celebrities: Crowfoot and Dr. Ellington, the spirits who speak through him when he's in a trance. Don't mistake this for that channeling" nonsense.
I'm a deep trance medium. There's quite a difference between the two," Ireland explains. A deep trance medium is someone who's totally unconscious of what's being spoken through him. I've been attached to electrical things by doctors and when I go into a trance, I show no respiration or pulse. The physical part of me is literally dead."
Asked for the name of a doctor who can substantiate this claim, Ireland supplies the name of a north Phoenix chiropractor with links to the Valley's psychic community. He's no fake," swears Dr. Robert Bright. There are fakes out there, just as there are quack doctors and shyster lawyers. I can verify that that gentleman is not a fake."
And no one disputes that Ireland is the genuine article as an entertainer. Do I think Richard is psychic?" says John McCabe, former manager of the Phoenix Playboy Club and current general manager of the Arizona Club chain (a string of private restaurants in which Ireland occasionally performs). I think that Richard signs an entertainment contract and I think that he's a marvelous entertainer. He does not sign a contract that says, `I am a religious deity and I am capable of performing miracles.' What Richard does for us is wonderfully entertaining. Even having watched him work for years, I still have no idea how he does it."
The worshipers who file into Ireland's University of Life Church for his weekly services couldn't care less how he does it. When you believe, no explanation is necessary.
`Doc' is a truly amazing individual," says Angie DiMaggio, a fortyish high school teacher who became an Ireland follower nine months ago. While waiting for Ireland to appear on a recent Sunday, she marvels about one of Doc's paranormal feats. The other day when I was down here, I was thinking about him for some reason. Well, he picked right up on it and said, `Stop talking to me!' He's just a marvelous person and sometimes he can be quite profound."
For such a flamboyant clairvoyant, Ireland has operated out of some fairly shabby digs. Until last week, his church was located in a modest building surrounded by vacant lots near Seventh Street and McDowell Road. (His new place is a storefront a short distance away at 525 East McDowell.)
Visitors to the old church were treated to the sight of a huge slab of quartz crystals sprinkled with plastic flowers, parked atop an old TV cabinet. Despite efforts to jazz up the church with New Age decor, the interior still looked more like the insurance office it was in a previous life.
Ireland claims the church's membership rolls once included 1,400 names, but a recent Sunday gathering numbers fewer than 20 people, most of them older women who wouldn't look out of place at a bingo parlor.
Unfortunately, this is sort of a personality church like Oral Roberts' or Billy Graham's and I don't like that," says the reluctant messiah. I, being the founder, am sort of the key to making this happen. I've found that when I am not present in the pulpit, the congregation is not present in the audience."
Looking natty in a coat, tie and diamond rings, Ireland takes the pulpit. Playing the room like a pro, Ireland warms the congregation up with small talk, directing winks and personal asides to special friends throughout the room. The routine evidently has the desired effect--several of the women act every bit as excited as if Wayne Newton had personally acknowledged them from the stage of a Vegas show room.
Then Ireland launches into his sermon, a straight-ahead lecture that is less notable for its message (Wipe the blackboard clean") than it is for the anecdotes he uses to illustrate that point. He tells his congregation how he once thwarted both a mugging and a poolroom brawl simply by informing the potential attackers, I love you." During the sermon, Ireland also proves that Hollywood stars aren't the only ones with whom he's on a first-name basis. Hence the numerous references to J.C."--that's Mr. Christ to the rest of us.
At the conclusion of the sermon, Ireland disappears to psych up for the popular ESP demonstration that caps each service. In his absence, a female associate takes over. It is time to give," she announces. Eager to get to the good part" of the service, audience members get out their checkbooks and dutifully scrawl love offerings. As the checks are collected and blank ESP Gram forms are distributed, Ireland returns to the pulpit and begins bandaging his eyes shut with pieces of adhesive tape. Don't write anything silly," commands the psychic, who evidently can't be bothered with divining anything as trivial as Social Security numbers and the names of third-grade playmates. If a question is unimportant to you, it's going to be unimportant to me, too." Of course, that's not to say that a question should be too serious, either. As Ireland will be the first to point out, a public forum like a nightclub or a church service is certainly no place to wrestle with a major life crisis like divorce. That's why church members with really big problems are urged to see the doctor after the service to arrange a personal reading.
Fortunately, most of tonight's questions are a piece of cake.
One of the first questions is submitted by a woman recently widowed. Scrunching the ESP Gram over his blindfolded brow, Ireland goes through a few seconds of facial agony before blurting out, Don't be too anxious to meet someone else or I'll be jealous!"
Everyone in the room sighs sympathetically as the widow holds a Kleenex to her nose.
See, he's answering as her husband!" Angie DiMaggio whispers to a visitor. Didn't I tell you he was amazing?"
Another question is posed by DiMaggio's 10-year-old daughter, who wonders whether she'll be able to take a pet kitten along during an upcoming move to England. After Ireland doles out a vaguely reassuring fortune-cookie homily, the child beams. Her mom, meanwhile, simmers. I wish she hadn't asked that," says DiMaggio, who seriously doubts that Tabby will ever make it past Britain's strict animal-quarantine laws.
Another woman wonders about her health.
Ireland furiously strokes the ESP Gram. I see feet, trouble with feet," he says.
Staring at her sandals, the woman timidly breaks a smile. No. I haven't any problems that I know of."
Ireland presses the point. "I'm getting feet very clearly, some sort of trouble in the feet," he insists. "Are you sure there's no problem?"
The woman waffles. "Well . . . ."
"I'd keep an eye on that if I were you," he interrupts, before quickly moving to another question.
But the doctor strikes out when someone submits a question that reads, WHERE IS THE LOVED ONE?" Obviously assuming the query refers to a problem of the heart, Ireland refuses to answer, saying the question is too personal." (Mash notes from the dead apparently do not fall into this category.) I wouldn't want to embarrass you by answering in front of everyone," he explains, unaware that the question really refers to a lost library book, Evelyn Waugh's The Loved One. "I can talk to you about this after we're done here."
Still, isn't everyone entitled to a few mistakes? The world's most renowned psychic thinks so. "Anyone who's perfect is ahead of J.C.," jokes Ireland. I'm not perfect--yet."
Ireland refers to this phenomenon as video x-ray clairvoyance."
"If some of these people behind bars knew I was the one who had fingered them, well, I might not have lived to die eight times."
"We sort of have a bargain not to talk about these things," he explains in a conspiratorial whisper.
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"I've found that when I am not present in the pulpit, the congregation is not present in the audience."
Everyone in the room sighs sympathetically as the widow holds a Kleenex to her nose.
Ireland furiously strokes the ESP Gram. "I see feet, trouble with feet," he says.
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