May 14, 2013

Popular psychologist Joyce Brothers dead at 85

Sandy Cohen / The Associated Press

LOS ANGELES — Before Dr. Phil and Dr. Drew and Dr. Oz, there was Joyce Brothers.

click image to enlarge

Dr. Joyce Brothers In a Sept. 1, 1987, publicity photo for her upcoming television series, "The Psychology Behind the News."

AP

An undated file photo shows Dr. Joyce Brothers in the studio of her direct line radio show. 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.

AP

The popular psychologist pioneered the television advice show in the 1950s, opening the airwaves to discussions of love, marriage and parenting, as well as such taboo subjects as menopause, frigidity, impotence and sexual enjoyment. She went on to become an author, syndicated advice columnist and TV and film personality, setting the stage for today's one-named TV doctors.

Brothers died Monday of respiratory failure in New York City, according to her longtime publicist, Sanford Brokaw. She was 85.

Phil McGraw called Brothers "a pioneer in the field of mental health."

"Decades before I came along, Dr. Joyce was able to get people talking about their emotional issues and problems. In her own gentle and caring way she let people know it was OK to discuss their feelings and emotions," he said in a statement Monday. "She had a great sense of humor and gave very sound advice in her column and whenever she appeared on TV. I owe her a great deal for what she did for the mental health profession and society owes her a big thank you."

Brothers first gained fame on the game show "The $64,000 Question" and said 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 game 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.

Her celebrity opened up doors. In 1956, she became co-host of "Sports Showcast" and frequently appeared on talk shows.

Two years later, 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 even racier topics.

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.

Despite criticism of the format, the call-in show took off, and by 1985, the Association of Media Psychologists was created to monitor for abuses.

Dr. Drew Pinsky, who has offered his medical expertise in radio and television formats first pioneered by Brothers, saluted her impact on the industry.

"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 knowledgable."

Other celebrities, including Paris Hilton, rapper Common and motivational guru Tony Robbins, posted bits of Brothers' advice on Twitter, such as: "The best proof of love is trust."

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