In the spring of 2013, Kate Gallagher Leong called Anthony William. She was desperate for help. Forty-eight days later, her son, Gavin, was dead.
Prior to what would be their first — and last — phone call, Leong had opened up on her parenting blog about Gavin and his seemingly incurable illness. Gavin suffered from hearing and respiratory issues, in addition to other mysterious symptoms. Despite taking him to specialists, Leong’s search for a diagnosis turned up fruitless. When she got an email from a blog reader suggesting she reach out to a man named Anthony William, she didn’t hesitate.
“When you’re a mom of a special-needs child, especially with a mystery like Gavin was, I would have done anything,” Leong tells Inverse.
A cursory search on YouTube gives us our only glimpse into William in his element, in a place where he can address the internet at large. With his brunette ponytail and small-framed glasses, it’s clear that he’s not a face from Hollywood, or a persona painstakingly crafted in a PR meeting. His delivery is raw yet relatable, with a voice that vibrates like that of a megachurch pastor — but only a bit. Just enough.
William, who markets himself as the “Medical Medium,” has written three books about natural healing and garnered a celebrity clientele. Robert De Niro, James Van Der Beek of Dawson’s Creek fame, Naomi Campbell, and Goop founder Gwyneth Paltrow all offer glowing testimonials of William’s “God-given skills,” despite the fact he doesn’t seem to have a public record of a medical degree. Instead, he maintains that his expertise was granted to him by a “spirit” when he was four years old — and that his connection with that entity allows him to cure others of various illnesses, from irritable bowel to thyroid cancer.
“Anthony’s unprecedented accuracy and success rate as the Medical Medium have earned him the trust and love of thousands worldwide, among them movie stars, rock stars, billionaires, professional athletes, best-selling authors, and countless other people from all walks of life who couldn’t find a way to heal until he provided them with insights from Spirit,” he boasts on his website.
But when William spoke to Leong for an hour-long, $300 phone consultation, William didn’t heal her son at all. He didn’t diagnose Gavin as he claimed he could, which is what Leon was expecting, and instead told Leong she had passed on the Epstein-Barr virus (EBV) to her son in utero. Reading off a list she wrote based on their phone call in 2013, Leong tells Inverse William suggested a benign vitamin regimen, including liquid B12 and Zinc for Gavin, and a kind of charcoal “detoxifier” for Leong, a prescription of sorts for the mother given without explanation.
When Gavin died from a febrile seizure those 48 days after her consultation with William, Leong felt responsible for her son’s death. After all, William told her she had passed along EBV to her son, Gavin, which was supposedly the source of all his illness. According to Leong, he died undiagnosed. Doctors didn’t know what happened.
“All I could think was, ‘Oh my god, I did this to him,’” she says. “This was me.”
Though he published his first book, Medical Medium, back in 2015, William claims to have used his “gift” throughout most of his life, healing family, friends, and more. He’s not the first person to claim a connection to the divine — the annals of history are full of people who’ve called themselves psychic healers, perhaps most notably Edgar Cayce, aka the “father of holistic medicine.”
But unlike Cayce and others, William markets himself with a modern, exclusive flair. In addition to allegedly charging $500 for a half-hour telephone reading — several sources confirmed the dollar amount with Inverse, along with customer reviewers on Amazon — he is a “trusted expert” for Goop, where he’s dispensed some seriously dubious advice over the course of several blog posts. We can’t confirm how much William is currently charging for consultations like the one he gave Leong, because the information isn’t available on his website.
In a recent Goop article about thyroid cancer, William claims that “real, malignant cancer” is a modern phenomenon that started after the Industrial Revolution, and that the extremely common Epstein-Barr virus is the source of almost all cancers.
Though his historical assertion is patently untrue — ancient Egyptians described cancer on papyri dating back thousands of years — William’s medical advice is even more unnervingly false:
“Ninety-eight percent of the time, cancer is caused by a virus and at least one type of toxin,” William writes in that column, not elaborating on what qualifies as a “toxin.” “There are many viruses that can be involved with cancer; the Epstein-Barr virus (EBV) is one of them…EBV is also responsible for breast cancer, liver cancer, almost all lung cancer, pancreatic cancer, colon cancer, prostate cancer, women’s reproductive cancers, leukemia, and many more.”
Since its founding in 2008, Goop has garnered an enormous amount of attention — and $25 million in funding — for promoting some seriously problematic health advice, much of which has been rebuked by the medical community. Over the last few years alone, it’s promoted vaginal steaming, vaginal jade eggs, and $120 “biofrequency healing” stickers, which the company erroneously claimed were made from NASA spacesuit material. William wrote Goop’s most-read story of 2015 by a “relative landslide.”
So although it’s not off-brand for Goop to repeatedly host the Medical Medium on their website, it’s unnerving considering the brand’s growing influence, despite its many critics. Goop had a terrific autumn traffic-wise, skyrocketing from 1,400,000 visitors in September 2017 to more than 2 million in December, according to analytics site SimilarWeb. In September, the lifestyle company launched its quarterly magazine in a partnership with Condé Naste, which also publishes Vogue, The New Yorker, and GQ.
There’s no shortage of coverage around some of Goop’s controversial suggestions, like the body stickers or “yoni eggs.” But William seems to have been overlooked. There’s almost no media skepticism surrounding his work, even though he flatly denies on Goop that genetics have anything to do with disease, which in this case is cancer:
“While of course facial features and vocal chords [sic] are genetic, disease isn’t,” he declares, with no evidence.
“Apart from the wasted money on a book, I think that his advice could lead people to believe that they don’t need to think about genetics for their thyroid cancer,” Gunter says. “This just makes doctors’ jobs harder.”
Of Goop as an enterprise, Gunter offered this statement to Inverse:
Promoting the Medical Medium is no different than promoting anti-vaccine views or cleanses or coffee enemas. The minimum is that people waste money, but there is great potential for harm with many of the therapies that are recommended and delays in diagnosis. Every day someone tweets to me or messages me on Facebook about a friend of family member who delayed real therapy that could help them to give snake oil a go. How anyone can publish that drivel and think, “I have done a good thing today” is beyond me.
While EBV is incredibly common, according to the Centers for Disease Control, there’s essentially no peer-reviewed evidence to confidently state it causes cancer, as William does. According to the American Cancer Society (ACS), at most, it could be linked to Hodgkin’s lymphoma and “some cases of stomach cancer.” This is ambiguous territory, even for oncologists, nevermind medical “mediums,” since EBV spreads primarily via saliva — not in utero.
“EBV-related cancers are more common in Africa and parts of Southeast Asia,” the ACS writes on its website. “Overall, very few people who have been infected with EBV will ever develop these cancers.”
It seems even Goop is aware of the potential backlash associated with William, who seems to tell the majority of his fans that they’re ill because they have some form of the Epstein-Barr virus.
Each of William’s articles on Goop includes a footnote with an extensive disclaimer about the site’s intentions to merely “induce conversation,” thereby attempting to wash its hands of any actions taken by people who follow the advice as William instructs.
Here’s the Goop disclaimer:
They are the views of the author and do not necessarily represent the views of goop, and are for informational purposes only, even if and to the extent that this article features the advice of physicians and medical practitioners. This article is not, nor is it intended to be, a substitute for professional medical advice, diagnosis, or treatment, and should never be relied upon for specific medical advice.
That doesn’t stop Goop from having William back on its site again and again, dishing out even more unsubstantiated advice.
Over the last few months, Goop has not responded to Inverse’s repeated requests for comment on William, instead offering us information readily available on its website.
“We appreciate you reaching out, but the premise of this story is directly contradicted by the fact that each Anthony William piece includes a disclaimer that says: ‘This article is not, nor is it intended to be, a substitute for professional medical advice, diagnosis, or treatment, and should never be relied upon for specific medical advice,’” Noora Raj Brown, Goop’s vice president of communications, tells Inverse in an email from November 2017. “As you can see here, we also make it very clear he is a ‘self-titled medical medium,’ that he ‘is quick to point out [his book] has absolutely nothing in the way of medical study footnotes or citations’ and we even say it’s ‘a fascinating read, whether plausible or not.’”
This week, Goop asked Inverse to provide information about its reporting in order to address some of the accusations against William. Goop was made aware of Leong’s experience with William, in addition to the stories from other sources interviewed. Goop responded by noting the “overwhelmingly positive” response readers on the site have had to William’s blog posts.
Inverse has repeatedly emailed and called Goop with follow-up questions, but we have yet to hear back as of this writing.
“Apples teach us not to get burned by the frost of insensitivity from others.” — Anthony William on Goop
Much like the spirit with which he claims to communicate, William appears to be a ghost — at least according to Google. Publicly available documents obtained by Inverse show William’s business is registered in Naples, Florida, and that he’s 47 years old, according to online white page directories.
For someone so ostensibly renowned and well-connected (3 million fans on Facebook), there’s almost no information about him online — not even a Wikipedia page.
There’s no shortage of Amazon links to his books, however, and those are overwhelmingly full of glowing reviews:
“Anthony William’s ‘Medical Medium’ breathes freshness, clarity, and deep understanding into an often hot and misunderstood topic: mystery illness,” one Amazon user, CK, writes. “I have suffered for over two decades with an undiagnosed, misdiagnosed, and over-diagnosed illness. And I know I am not alone. Upon just finishing this book, I feel heard, understood, and in congruence with the simple yet also deceivingly complex wisdom in these pages.”
While it’s clear that many people feel helped by William, what’s surprising — and on some level, troubling — is that his social media pages have zero questions of him or his books, despite these astounding, superlative claims he’s made about his own book:
“This book is unlike anything you’ve read. You won’t find citation after citation, references to study after study, because this is fresh, ahead-of-its-time information that comes from the heavens.”
“This book unveils many of Spirit’s most precious medical secrets. It’s the answer for anyone who’s suffering from a chronic condition or a mystery illness that doctors haven’t been able to resolve.”
And most unnervingly, this:
“… the secrets this book contains will eventually be recognized by the scientific community.”
Brand management is a common strategy to protect a public figure’s image. But William seems to tightly police his image, even by 2017 standards — he’s disabled comments on all his YouTube videos and appears to personally manage his Facebook page, which is exclusively filled with effusive comments. The only place that hold any kind of criticism or information about William’s practice is in the Amazon comments section, specifically the one-star reviews.
“I paid $500 to have a reading with Anthony,” one Amazon customer posted on September 12, 2016. “I felt completely scammed and naive for thinking someone would be able to properly diagnosis me in 30 min over the phone. I was told he would be able to tell you what you have right away, and for the first half of my session he kept asking me questions about all my symptoms. He tells everyone they have EBV, including myself.”
According to Leong and several Amazon reviewers, William’s carefully curated social media presence is no accident — there might be something more insidious behind all those five-star reviews on the e-commerce site.
“I started doing some researching and I found out that when one of Anthony’s books came out there was a lottery by the publisher — Hay House — that whoever wrote the ‘most inspiring’ Amazon review would win a reading or something with him.” The book in question appears to be William’s aptly titled Medical Medium, published in 2015.
Inverse obtained what appears to be a copy of that call-out, originally on William’s website, later pasted to Phoenix Rising — a forum for people suffering from Myalgic Encephalomyelitis and chronic fatigue syndrome:
In November, Inverse reached out to Hay House, William’s publisher, which also publishes books written by other mediums and self-proclaimed healers. When we asked about William’s contest that he and Hay House seem to have created in order to garner positive reviews about his 2015 book, we received the following ambiguous response via email:
About two years after Williams published Medical Medium, he came out with his third book, Thyroid Healing. As of January 2018, it’s already an Amazon bestseller, with 730 reviews on the site. Ninety-five percent of them are five-star reviews.
It’s unclear what role Amazon plays in all this, or how much it can actually tell about who is being incentivized to write glowing reviews. While it’s common for publishers to give out free copies of books for fans to review, it appears that the monetary incentives allegedly used by William and Hay House fall into a different category.
When Inverse asked Amazon about the accusations of positive book reviews for compensation, a spokesperson confirmed the e-commerce site would be investigating the claims.
“We work hard to make sure customers can trust Amazon reviews and take allegations of reviews abuse very seriously,” an Amazon spokesperson tells Inverse. “We updated our community guidelines in October of 2016 to prohibit compensation of any kind in exchange for a review unless through an Amazon program. We investigate each report and will take action against those that violate our guidelines.”
When Inverse reached out to Hay House for comment on the Amazon investigation, representatives told us our message had been forwarded to the “appropriate department for further review,” but that the status of it could not be tracked.
Though William postures himself as a healer — a protector of the average person duped by doctors and Big Pharma — his practices suggest something darker.
Debbie Brazill, owner of a rehab facility for geriatric patients in Lake County, Florida, tells Inverse that seven or eight months ago, her 72-year-old mother, Lorraine, contacted William. Since then, he’s put her on a strict diet that Brazill says has caused her mother — who is 5-foot-11 — to drop from 120 to 93 lbs.
“She wasn’t sick before she called him,” claims Brazill, who originally told her story on an anti-Medical Medium Facebook page. “But after their phone call, she decided she has fibromyalgia,” Brazill says of her mother. “He also told her that she has the Epstein-Barr virus.”
Doctors confirmed that Lorraine does not have fibromyalgia, Brazill adds.
Brazill says her mother paid $500 for a half-hour phone call, and even more for William’s books. She also says her mother has a refrigerator “full of supplements.” She adds that she doesn’t know how much her mother has been spending on follow-up calls.
“He’s milking her out of lots of money,” she says. “I’m sure he’s making all his money from folks like my mother who are on a limited income, who can’t afford to pay him all this. She’s spending money that she really needs to live.”
Despite dropping dramatically in weight, Brazill says her mother is now skeptical about traditional medicine. Brazill says that her mother won’t eat dairy, carbohydrates, or any kind of sugar because William supposedly told her it’ll make her sick — sick with an illness she never had.
“He has her completely brainwashed,” Brazill says.
Inverse has emailed and called William multiple times over the last few months, asking for comment on so many of the claims brought against him. As of this writing, he has not responded. The Better Business Bureau of West Florida tells Inverse there’s no record of complaints against Anthony William, Inc., but that it would be conducting an investigation.
Perhaps William carefully curates the criticism around him because on some level he doesn’t even believe his own gimmick. His website features a lengthy disclaimer, clearing him of any legal responsibility for his advice.
Anthony William, Inc. dba Anthony William, Medical Medium (“Anthony William, Medical Medium”) is not a licensed medical doctor, chiropractor, osteopathic physician, naturopathic doctor, nutritionist, pharmacist, psychologist, psychotherapist, or other formally licensed healthcare professional, practitioner or provider of any kind. Anthony William, Medical Medium does not render medical, psychological, or other professional advice or treatment, nor does it provide or prescribe any medical diagnosis, treatment, medication, or remedy.
So then what does he “render,” exactly?
“None of it really makes sense,” Leong says. “It’s all just a big smokescreen.”
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