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 Monday 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 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.
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.
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.
For almost four decades, Brothers was a Good Housekeeping columnist. She also wrote a daily syndicated advice column that appeared in more than 350 newspapers.
Later, Brothers branched out into film, playing herself in more than a dozen movies.