Number of lives: 19
The Grammy-winning singer and actress is a “beautiful, charismatic, magnificently gifted spirit” who will return to earth for one more lifetime in Sweden in 2019. According to Browne, she’ll be doctor, and will “become as big a superstar in the world of medicine as she was in the world of music,” inventing a revolutionary implant that will address the physical effects of substance abuse.Houston’s extraordinary soul lineage began in ancient Jerusalem, as Ariel, the headstrong daughter of a successful mosaic artist. Ariel’s relatively fortunate life screeched to halt one day when her ill father took his own life. Reeling from shock, Ariel walked the streets of Jerusalem, eventually coming upon a scene of three crucifixions. She raised her head and “found herself transfixed by one of the men nailed to the cross”—that man being Jesus Christ. Browne argues that Houston’s religious convictions, beginning with her years as a Gospel singer and continuing throughout her life, came as a direct result of her predecessor’s chance encounter.Whitney: Tribute to an Icon, by the star’s sister-in-law Pat Houston, with an introduction by record executive Clive Davis, presents the story of the singer’s life as told though photographs. The Whitney I Knew, by close friend Bebe Winans, provides an intimate, unguarded look at the Houston’s triumphs and heartbreaks.
Number of lives: 44
One of the foremost stars of Hollywood’s Golden Era, Elizabeth Taylor led an illustrious life—she was married eight times, won multiple Academy Awards, and was a leading humanitarian figure in the fight against HIV/AIDS—before succumbing to longstanding heart problems in 2011 at the age of 79. What fueled her larger-than-life extravagance? Sylvia Browne says Taylor’s beauty, wisdom and spiritual inclinations (she converted from Christian Science to Judaism at 27) represent the sum total of 44 past lives. Taylor’s first incarnation was as a wealthy, religiously devout Babylonian woman named Anata who lived in the second century B.C. According to Browne, Taylor also lived as a Benedictine abbess in Switzerland in the 1500s and as a self-indulgent aristocrat on the periphery of Marie Antoinette’s coterie in the late 1700s. But it wasn’t until her “latest and last life” as Elizabeth Taylor, Browne says, that she “finally found the balance she’d been seeking between the spiritual and the secular.”
Capturing Taylor in all her complexity is no small feat; just ask Lindsay Lohan. Cindy de la Hoz‘s recent biography, Elizabeth Taylor: A Shining Legacy on Film, examines the star’s charisma and savvy through the lens of her acting career, while Joseph Papa’s Elizabeth Taylor, a Passion for Life delivers stories from her childhood and early rise.
Number of lives: 9
Michael Jackson’s past lives may go some way towards explaining his Peter Pan syndrome; his latest and last incarnation was the only life in which he survived past 14. His first life was as the son of a royal courtesan in Burma around 100 B.C., followed by seven consecutive lives of poverty—per Browne, “three in Africa, one in El Salvador, two in the Middle East, and one in the Appalachian mountains”—all of which ended in early deaths from sickness or starvation. This mix of early wealth and repeat destitution, Browne says, explains Jackson’s extravagance and generosity, especially towards impoverished children. And if he seemed at times bizarrely youthful, Browne suggests, it may be because he was descended from a soul-lineage of perpetual adolescence. (She ardently emphasized that he was not, in this or any lifetime, a pedophile.)
Randall Sullivan’s book Untouchable: The Strange Life and Death of Michael Jackson, reveals never-before-heard details of the King of Pop’s later years and seeks to unravel the mysteries of his life at Neverland Ranch.
Number of lives: 8
Grunge legend Kurt Cobain’s most recent life, which ended in suicide in 1994, was only his eighth, says Browne. A relatively “young soul,” Cobain’s first life took place in the early 1900s in Nebraska. He was the son of a Christian minister and a homemaker whose marriage, despite promising early years, turned sour (a dynamic echoed in Cobain’s own life) and ended in the mysterious death of his mother. Browne suggests that painful memories from this first incarnation stayed with Cobain and may explain some of the frustration and despair he felt. According to Browne, he’s resting peacefully on “the Other Side, planning his next reincarnation, in which he’ll be born in China in February of 2016.”
Heavier than Heaven, by Charles R. Cross, pays loving tribute to the Nirvana frontman, tracing his journey from a trailer park in Washington to musical stardom, while Cobain’s own Journals provides intimate glimpses into his troubled but highly creative mind.
Martin Luther King, Jr.
Number of lives: 8
King “spent eight lifetimes on earth toward the perfection of his spirit,” writes Browne. The past life most influential in forming the civil rights hero, according to Browne, took place in Massachusetts in the 1700s. King’s name was Thomas, and he was the son of an abusive “hellfire-and-brimstone traveling minister” whose uncontrollable anger eventually led to the beating death of his brother, Andrew. Shortly after this, Thomas left his family to study medicine. While his father’s behavior initially turned Thomas away from religion, he renewed his faith in God as an adult and found in it the strength to pursue his career as a doctor with avid dedication. Browne argues that King’s strong faith and intolerance of injustice stemmed, in large part, from his experiences as Thomas.
A Testament of Hope, collects King’s writings and speeches on the importance of hope and the transformative power of love. Martin Luther King, Jr.: A Life, by Marshall Frady, delves into the leader’s magnetism, piety and his turbulent early years.
Number of lives: 18
The general arc of Monroe’s life—rocky childhood, unstable relationships, notable beauty, and a tendency to addiction—was a script oft-repeated throughout her 18 incarnations, Browne says. One strikingly similar lifetime was that of “Joanna,” who lived in Portugal in the 1600s. Like Monroe, Joanna was born to a mentally ill parent and spent her childhood as an orphan in the care of others. At age 10, she was captured by a band of gypsies, with whom she remained for most of her teen and adult years. To earn money she picked up minor skills—such as fortune-telling and pick-pocketing—but for the most part her life was one of “no structure, no love, no place to call home and no pleasure that wasn’t drug-induced.” She was briefly rescued by a generous and caring uncle (who, according to Browne, rejoined Monroe in her most recent lifetime as Joe DiMaggio), but soon returned to the gypsies and eventually died young from health issues brought on by opium withdrawal. All too similar problems persisted into her incarnation as Marilyn Monroe—which, according to Browne, will be her last.
Fragments: Poems, Intimate Notes, Letters collects Monroe’s private writings, correspondences and journal entries, revealing a humanity and hopefulness largely missing from the tragic picture we have of her.
Number of lives: 2
Once a genius, always a genius: According to Browne, the brain behind the world’s biggest computer brand was incarnated only once before—as the 16th-century Florentine mathematician and physicist Galileo Galilei. Aside from their visionary thinking—Galileo supported a heliocentric theory of the solar system, which was at the time deemed a heresy, and also wrote a treatise on physics, “Discourses,” that later inspired Albert Einstein—Jobs and his predecessor shared other traits. They both incorporated an appreciation for aesthetics into their scientific pursuits (Galileo trained briefly as a painter, while Jobs’ eye for design played a crucial role in Apple’s success); and both their careers were cut short by illness.
Jobs won’t be returning for another incarnation on Earth, says Browne, but he’s not done moving mountains yet. According to Browne, “[h]e’s already hard at work on the Other Side, infusing the results of his research and experiments—in this case revolutionizing space travel… to be actualized by some of the greatest minds here on earth.”
Number of lives: 51
The Nobel Prize-winning British politician led past lives both exceptional and ordinary, but each “was a building block toward the depth, courage, and integrity of…a brilliant statesman instrumental in ending World War II.” One of his earliest incarnations took place in Greece in the third century B.C., as the philosopher Plotinus, a contemporary of Aristotle. While Plotinus’ philosophies proved divisive, he was highly regarded for his personal integrity, verbal fluency, and “innate gift for the art of diplomacy”—qualities that would become crucial during Churchill’s tenure as prime minister.
Two recent books provide new insights into Churchill’s philosophy and character. The Last Lion (1940-1965) the last in a triology by William Manchester and Paul Reid, examines his political maneuverings and military strategy, while Churchill: The Power of Words compiles 100 excerpts from his letters, articles and speeches, driving home his dexterity with language and capacity for reflection.
Number of lives: 42
The Grammy-winning British singer, known as much for her personal turmoil as her soulful R&B-influenced music, was an “advanced” spirit who has struggled to learn two important lessons over the course of her 42 lifetimes, says Browne. The first lesson is that “she is indeed worthy of the best life has to offer”; the second is that “punishment, whether from outside influences or from herself, isn’t an inevitable price of success.” Two particularly brutal past lives cast a shadow over Winehouse, according to Browne. The first was as a slave in Haiti in the 1500s named Matias, who was executed after her plans to escape were discovered by her owners. The other was as a Hawaiian wife and mother named Haku, forced to leave her homeland and her beloved parents for Italy following religious persecution. These experiences, says Browne, instilled in Winehouse a profound dread and fear of happiness, which both fueled her art and proved to be her undoing. According to Browne, she’ll be back for two more incarnations to “complete her education on Earth.”
This article was updated on September 23, 2014