Kenny Kingston

Kenny Kingston, self-proclaimed "psychic to the stars," had a mixed record on predicting Oscar winners and blamed his errors on dead celebrities trying to rig the voting. (Los Angeles Times / November 12, 2014)

Kenny Kingston, the self-described "psychic to the stars" who claimed numerous celebrity clients — and said that he could communicate with dead ones — died Monday at home in Studio City. He was 87.

The cause was cardiovascular disease, said his longtime partner Valerie Porter.

Kingston was most widely known in the 1970s, when he appeared on national talk shows. But he got publicity long after that for his annual predictions of Academy Award winners based on messages he received from dead stars, who could presumably see the future or have access to the inner sanctums of ballot tallying firm Price Waterhouse.

The predictions were often no better than those in an office pool. For example, in 1994 Kingston said he had it on good authority from the likes of Greta Garbo, Gloria Swanson and James Dean that the acting winners would include Holly Hunter and Tommy Lee Jones. Those picks turned out to be correct, but the dead stars also wrongly picked Liam Neeson and Emma Thompson.

The always genial Kingston, known for his oversized tinted glasses and ample mop of blond hair, blamed misfires on the dead stars, saying that they rigged it by choosing the people they wanted to win.

He admitted he got other predictions wrong. "I saw a singer in San Francisco once and predicted he'd never make it," he said in a 1988 Los Angeles Times interview. "His name was Johnny Mathis."

But in Kingston's world, even the flubs bolstered his claims of psychic abilities. "That proves I'm no charlatan. They're never wrong. I'm just a happy medium," he said.

Kingston was born Feb. 15, 1927, in Buffalo, N.Y. He got started in fortune telling as a child when his grandmother taught him how to read tea leaves.

After briefly attending a junior college, Kingston joined the Army in the mid-1940s and was sent to Italy, where he helped plan and host entertainment shows for troops. He did fortune telling as a hobby, leading him to do a reading for the visiting Duchess of Windsor. "She was very interested in readings," Porter said. "The Duke, not so much."

Upon his discharge, Kingston moved to San Francisco, where he eventually got a local television talk show that had nothing to do with psychic predictions, but it gave him the chance to meet visiting entertainers, such as Marilyn Monroe, and do readings for believers.

It became a profession in the 1960s when he moved to Los Angeles and his celebrity connections led to appearances on local and national shows, most often on one hosted by Merv Griffin. Kingston also hit the lecture circuit, wrote books, did "psychic hotline" infomercials and gave private readings for $250 an hour.

His tales of how stars were doing in the netherworld were invariably sunny. He said Elvis Presley was studying medicine, W.C. Fields was in training to become an accountant, and his buddy Monroe, who was happily reunited with former husband Joe DiMaggio, was immersed in her studies of philosophy.

In accordance with Kingston's beliefs, he can now check on that firsthand.

Kingston, who was an only child, is survived by Porter. They met in 1970.

david.colker@latimes.com
Twitter: @davidcolker