Joyce Brothers, the pop psychologist who pioneered the television advice show in the 1950s and enjoyed a long and prolific career as a syndicated columnist, author, and television and film personality, has died. She was 85.
Brothers died yesterday of respiratory failure in New York City, according to her longtime Los Angeles-based publicist, Sanford Brokaw.
Brothers first gained fame on a game show and went on to publish 15 books and make cameo appearances on popular shows, including "Happy Days" and "The Simpsons." She visited Johnny Carson on "The Tonight Show" nearly 100 times.
The way Brothers liked to tell it, her multimedia career came about "because we were hungry." It was 1955. Her husband, Milton Brothers, was still in medical school and Brothers had just given up her teaching positions at Hunter College and Columbia University to be home with her newborn, firmly believing a child's development depended on it.
But the young family found itself struggling on her husband's residency income. So Brothers came up with the idea of entering a television quiz show as a contestant.
"The $64,000 Question" quizzed contestants in their chosen area of expertise. She memorized 20 volumes of a boxing encyclopedia -- and, with that as her subject, became the only woman and the second person to ever win the show's top prize.
Brothers tried her luck again on the superseding "$64,000 Challenge," answering each question correctly and earning the dubious distinction as one of the biggest winners in the history of television quiz shows. She later denied any knowledge of cheating, and during a 1959 hearing in the quiz show scandal, a producer exonerated her of involvement.
In 1958, NBC offered her a trial on an afternoon television program in which she advised on love, marriage, sex and child-rearing. Its success led to a nationally telecast program, and subsequent late-night shows that addressed such taboo subjects as menopause, frigidity, impotence and sexual enjoyment.
She also dispensed advice on several phone-in radio programs, sometimes going live. She was criticized by some for giving out advice without knowing her callers' histories. But Brothers responded that she was not practicing therapy on the air and that she advised callers to seek professional help when needed.
In 1971, Brothers saved the life of a despondent Nassau County woman who had taken sleeping pills and called the psychologist's WMCA radio show threatening suicide. Brothers stayed on the call with her for more than two hours until the woman gave up her phone number and police could trace the location. The woman was taken to the then-Nassau County Medical Center, where she was treated for ingesting an "inordinate" amount of the barbiturate Tuinal, according to doctors there.
Dr. Drew Pinsky, who has offered his medical expertise in radio and television formats first pioneered by Brothers, was among those sharing reaction to her death yesterday.
"Knew nothing about her history on the $64,000 question, but I did know Joyce Brothers," he wrote on Twitter. "She was a pioneer and very knowledgeable."
Born Joyce Diane Bauer in New York, Brothers earned her bachelor's degree from Cornell University and a PhD in psychology from Columbia.