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Dr. Joyce Brothers, America’s First Pop Psychologist, Dies at 85

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Dr. Joyce Brothers pioneered television psychology over a 50-year career.

Dr. Joyce Brothers, the nation’s first pop-culture psychologist, who used her medical credentials to talk on television about things that once were rarely mentioned in polite conversation, has died after a long illness. She was 85.

During her career, Brothers went where few other television personalities dared to go. She started conversations that redefined how we saw ourselves and what we thought about our sexuality.

She died Monday (May 13) at her New Jersey home, according to a statement released by her family to the media. She was surrounded by family.

Brothers earned her doctorate degree in psychology from Columbia University and her undergraduate degree at Cornell University in the 1940s. But she was a creature of television in the early days of the medium. She became famous through her appearance on, of all things, a game show.

In 1955, at the height of the game show craze, she became a contestant on the “The $64,000 Question.” She won handily. That might have been the end of it, but an ensuing scandal over the shows thrust her back into the limelight.

Game shows were accused of feeding contestants answers to heighten the drama and control the outcome of the games. Congressional hearings uncovered massive fraud.

Ironically, the diminutive and professorial Brothers had won the show because of her knowledge of boxing. But it was never proved that she was slipped the answers and she steadfastly denied receiving any help. She said she studied up on the subject like preparing for a dissertation.

In 1958, she landed a job on a local New York television station, offering relationship advice. It set her on her career path for the rest of her life. She soon became a national television personality, who offered her opinion on everything from the latest sensational crime to Hollywood breakups.

“I invented media psychology. I was the first. The founding mother,” she once told The Washington Post in an interview. She also was one of the first TV personalities to become a household brand.

She hosted television and radio shows, which such names as “The Dr. Joyce Brothers Show” to “Ask Dr. Brothers,” “Consult Dr. Brothers” and “Living Easy With Dr. Joyce Brothers.” She also wrote a syndicated column for the next 40 years and published books in 26 different languages.

She was a regular on the talk show circuit and did guest spots, mostly as herself, in more than a dozen television shows, mostly sit-coms, and a handful of movies.

Brothers married Milton Brothers, a medical doctor, in 1949 and remained together until his death in 1989. They’re survived by a daughter, Lisa, also a doctor, a sister, Elaine Goldsmith, four grandchildren and two great-grandchildren.

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