Joyce Brothers, the popular psychologist who pioneered television advice shows in the 1950s and who enjoyed a long and prolific career as a syndicated columnist, author, and television and film personality, has died age 85.
Brothers died Monday in New York City, according to her longtime publicist, Sanford Brokaw. The cause of death was not immediately made public.
Brothers first gained fame on the game show The $64,000 Question and the wrote and published 15 books and made cameo appearances on popular television shows. She was even featured on The Simpsons. She was a guest on the Tonight Show when Johnny Carson was the presenter and her appearances were so popular that she was on the show almost a hundred times.
The way Brothers related it, her multimedia career came about “because we were hungry.”
In 1955. Her husband, Milton Brothers, was still in medical school and Joyce had just given up her teaching positions at Hunter College and Columbia University to be home with her newborn baby.
The young family soon found it a struggle to subsist on husband Milton’s residency income. So Brothers came up with the idea of entering a television quiz show as a contestant.
The quiz show she chose was the popular The $64,000 Question that quizzed contestants in their chosen area of expertise. She memorized 20 volumes of a boxing encyclopedia. Using that topic as her area of expertise she became the only woman, and the second person, to ever win the show’s top prize.
Brothers tried her luck again on the show answering each question correctly and earned the dubious distinction as one of the biggest winners in the history of television quiz shows.
Her newfound celebrity opened up doors. In 1956, she became the co-host of Sports Showcast and started appearing on talk shows.
Two years later, NBC offered her a local afternoon television program in which she advised on love, marriage, sex and childrearing. The show’s success led to a nationally telecast program and then late-night shows that addressed such taboo subjects as menopause, frigidity, impotence and sexual enjoyment.
She dispensed advice on several phone-in radio programs, occasionally 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 show for abuse.
Joyce Brothers was a columnist for Good Housekeeping for over forty years. She also wrote a daily syndicated advice column that appeared in more than 350 newspapers. In 1961, she was, very briefly, host of her own television program.
Later, Brothers played herself in more than a dozen movies, including Analyze That (2002), Beethoven’s 4th (2001), Lover’s Knot (1996) and Dear God (1996).
She was also an advocate for women and women’s rights. During the 1970s, Brothers called for textbooks to remove sexist bias, noting that nonsexist cultures tend to be less warlike.
She was born Joyce Diane Bauer in New York. She earned her bachelor’s degree from Cornell University and received a Ph.D. in psychology from Columbia University.
Many of the books she wrote were “advice” and “self-help” books. One of which was the book Widowed, a guide to dealing with grief that she wrote after her husband died in 1990.
Brothers is survived by sister Elaine Goldsmith, daughter Lisa Brothers Arbisser, four grandchildren and two great-grandchildren.
By Michael Smith