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Dr. Joyce Brothers, TV psychologist, dies at 85

The Washington Post

Dr. Joyce Brothers, 85, who held a Ph.D. in psychology and was one of the most prominent and widely known of those who provided the American public with personal counseling through the mass media, died Monday in New York City. Her longtime publicist reported the death.

A seemingly unlikely knowledge of boxing first drew public attention to Brothers, but her long career was founded on what were described as the qualities of sympathy and sincerity that she showed to large numbers of those who were troubled, tormented or merely in need of a few soothing words.

Among those in the mental health and other helping professions, Brothers seemed to stand out for her ability and willingness to offer advice in a concise and comprehensible form and for her relatively simple solutions to the problems brought before her.

Her solutions, ideas and recommendations appeared in a syndicated newspaper column that at one point ran in more than 300 papers. For many years, a column under her name appeared in the pages of Good Housekeeping magazine. Readers also could avail themselves of her insights through best-selling books.

But problem-plagued and angst-ridden members of the American public, as well as the merely curious and those who craved improvements in their self-knowledge, had their greatest access to Brothers through her television appearances.

It is possible that she was the first among psychology professionals to make such broad use of the electronic media. “I invented media psychology,” she was once quoted as saying. “I was the first. The founding mother.”

In such statements could be heard not only her claim to primacy among her colleagues, but also an assertiveness that accompanied her quiet demeanor and shyness and that helped her rise to the top of the heap of American advice providers.

Over the years, she made appearances on many television shows. She made many appearances on the “The Tonight Show Starring Johnny Carson.” Her face and name were recognizable instantly to millions.

Fame first came to her almost 60 years ago. The rise to celebrity began in the mid-1950s, when television was in its early years and Americans sat in their living rooms each week to watch contestants vie on a game show called “The $64,000 Question.”

Apparently in recognition of its seeming incongruity, it was suggested that the diminutive Brothers should have boxing as her area of expertise.

Supported by intensive study and a capacious memory, she answered accurately, week after week, to gain national attention and widespread celebrity, some of it generated by her displays of ring erudition and some by her obvious physical delicacy. On she went, supplying the correct response to one stumper after another, until she at last conquered the show’s ultimate challenge, the daunting $64,000 question.

Quiz show success was followed by an appearance or two that exploited her store of boxing lore. She was a color commentator on one major televised boxing match. But it did not take long for Brothers, who held a doctorate from Columbia University, to make a name for herself in the field in which she had been trained.

Her shows had a variety of names, her books had many titles, but it was her name that made them successful. It did not matter whether she appeared on “The Dr. Joyce Brothers Show” or “Consult Dr. Brothers” or “Living Easy with Dr. Joyce Brothers.”