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As president, chief data strategist and head of media at 20th Century Fox, Julie Rieger has worked on marketing campaigns involving aliens (Avatar), superheroes (Deadpool) and astronauts (The Martian). Now, add ghosts: On Oct. 9, Rieger, 49, will publish her first book, a memoir titled Ghost Photographer: A Hollywood Executive’s True Story of Discovering the Real World of Make-Believe (Simon & Schuster), and the book explores her journey from skeptic to believer to much, much more.
The Oklahoma-born and -bred Rieger, who has also worked on marketing campaigns for such Fox films as The Book Thief and Hidden Figures, lost her mother, Margaret Hadley, to Alzheimer’s disease in February 2011. (“She taught me unconditional love and was the most profound person in my world,” she noted of her mom.) Five months later, her close friend Mona passed away. It wasn’t long after that when she started experiencing signs, or activity — at it was lights, music or fans turning off and on. Then she discovered a ghost in a photograph she had taken, and that moment proved to be a flashpoint in her journey into what she calls the “cosmic wilderness” as she discovered and honed her psychic skills, which include medium abilities and clairsentience.
“Grief blew the door open to the other side and profoundly changed who I am today,” Rieger told The Hollywood Reporter in a telephone interview. “I thought I was crazy at first, but I am a bit of a nerd, so I started doing some research and I found that 45 percent of Americans believe in ghosts. I’m not the only one.”
Though research is her business, she found more proof in real life. “As I started sharing my experiences, people could not interrupt me fast enough to tell me theirs,” Rieger reveals. “That’s why I started writing. It felt like this was taboo. … But what I found is that when I started talking more about these stories, we became far more connected. That’s when my healing started to happen.”
It took her three years to write the book, which she considers a memoir, a love letter to her late mother and an often-comical look at how she walked through grief and learned to accept her new reality. And she never thought about keeping any of her beliefs tucked away in a closet. “I’ve come out once, so I might as well come out twice,” says Rieger, who lives in Los Angeles with her wife. “My hope is that the book gets in the hands of people who need it, want it and want to feel better. If they are grieving, there is a path for them, too. My intention is not to try and convince anyone. The beauty of being you is that you get to believe what you want to believe.”
The beauty of Rieger’s journey is that she’s already got some notable name supporters on the back of Ghost Photographer’s book jacket. Writes uber-producer Jason Blum: “I love this book. Julie takes the ‘para’ out of paranormal. Her everyday life is stranger than fiction, and she shares her remarkable journey into the spirit realm with sharp humor and a good dose of skepticism.”
Of the tone, Rieger says “the emotions are real and incredibly deep and profound, but there’s a lot of it that I can poke fun at.” Case in point: One ghost she came in contact with for a year and a half earned the nickname “little fucker.” “I look at the world with a bit of a sense of humor, and I wanted that to carry it through to the book,” she explains.
For the record, this part is not a joke: Rieger believes that she encounters the most dead people during visits to Javier’s Century City at the Westfield Century City mall but, again, she’s not forcing anyone to cosign her experiences. That said, Rieger knows she landed in the right industry. “If there’s any place that will accept a journey like mine or my stories from the other side, it’s Hollywood. Let’s be honest, it’s the island of misfit toys,” Rieger says with a laugh. “I’m lucky that I don’t work in banking because I don’t think I would’ve done it then. Why would I hide? The only people who hide in Hollywood are Republicans.”
A version of this story first appeared in the Oct. 10 issue of The Hollywood Reporter magazine. To receive the magazine, click here to subscribe.
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