NEW YORK (CBSNewYork/AP) — Popular American psychologist Joyce Brothers died in New York on Monday at the age of 85.
Brothers was the first TV psychologist. She was also an advice columnist, and had published a daily syndicated column for decades.
Brothers – nee Bauer — was born in Manhattan and grew up in Far Rockaway, Queens. She obtained a master’s degree and Ph.D. from Columbia University, with a dissertation on anxiety avoidance and escape behavior measured by the action potential in muscle, the Paley Center for Media recalled.
But after marrying medical student Milton Brothers and having her first child, she put her career on hold as her family found itself in severe need of money. This led to Dr. Brothers’ first high-profile media exposure, as she became a contestant on “The $64,000 Question” – the pioneering TV quiz program – in 1955. She won the full $64,000 in December of that year by answering questions about boxing.
Brothers became the only woman to ever win the show’s top prize, and she was exonerated when allegations that TV quiz shows were rigged erupted in 1959.
Brothers appeared as a color commentator on CBS for a boxing match between Carmen Basilio and Sugar Ray Robinson, but her expertise in psychology became her focus once again a short time later. In 1958, she became host of “The Dr. Joyce Brothers Show,” an afternoon talk show where she answered questions about relationships, marital problems, and sexuality, the Paley Center recalled.
Her broadcasting career lasted more than 40 years on both television and radio.
Brothers also crossed over into entertainment, first appearing as herself on “The Jack Benny Program.” She later appeared in numerous sitcoms – analyzing the Fonz’s dog in “Happy Days” and treating Andy Kaufman’s Latka Gravas character for multiple personality disorder in “Taxi – among other cameos. She also appeared in a handful of daytime soap operas.
“Her appearances on so many scripted programs might have suggested a public resistance to taking Brothers seriously. But, in fact, she was often cited among the most admired women in America, according to various polls over the years,” the Paley Center said.
In particular, Brothers was noted for two on-air incidents in which she prevented troubled people from committing suicide – once in 1965, and once on radio in 1971. In the latter incident, Dr. Brothers comforted a woman who had overdosed on sleeping pills, and kept her on the line for three and a half hours, the Paley Center recalled.
Some of Brothers’ colleagues did not believe broadcasting was the proper venue for psychological counseling. Early in her career, the American Psychological Association sought to revoke her membership when colleagues objected to her discussion of psychological advice outside of an office setting, according to an obit prepared by her family.
But the APA later reversed course and issued Dr. Brothers a presidential citation for her role “as a pioneer in media psychology.”
Brothers was also heavily involved in television news, appearing for on-set interviews to help the public deal with tragedies and horrors such as the death of Princess Diana in 1997, and the terrorist attacks of Sept. 11, 2001.
Brothers was also consulted on rock music and popular culture, and the Beatles requested to meet her when they arrived in New York for their first American tour in 1964.
She also published a monthly column in Good Housekeeping magazine and a syndicated newspaper column that was once printed in 350 newspapers across the country.
A funeral for Dr. Brothers was to be held Tuesday morning at the Riverside Memorial Chapel in the Bronx. In lieu of flowers, donations may be made to the Institute for Music and Neurologic Function at 612 Allerton Ave., Bronx, NY 10467.
Brothers’ family also welcomes condolences and memories at the Facebook page facebook.com/DrJoyceBrothers.
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