Sex Researcher Virginia Johnson Dies at 88

Everett Collection
Virginia Johnson and William Masters with Mike Douglas (left) on the "The Mike Douglas Show" in the '70s.

With her husband, William Masters, she helped touch off the sexual revolution in the 1960s. Showtime’s drama based on their lives premieres in September.

Virginia Johnson, one-half of the pioneering husband-and-wife Masters & Johnson research team that explored the science of human sexuality, has died. She was 88.

Johnson died Wednesday at an assisted living facility in St. Louis after suffering complications from various illnesses, according to her son, Scott Johnson.

Lizzie Caplan is starring as Johnson opposite Michael Sheen as William Masters in the upcoming Showtime drama Masters of Sex from Sony Pictures Television.

The pilot for the series, based on Thomas Maier’s 2009 biography Masters of Sex: The Life and Times of William Masters and Virginia Johnson, the Couple Who Taught America How to Love, was directed by Oscar nominee John Madden (Shakespeare in Love). The network ordered 12 episodes in June for a Sept. 29 premiere.

Johnson was a twice-divorced mother in 1957 when she was hired as a research assistant to Masters, an obstetrician and gynecologist. They collaborated on what was described as the “biggest sex experiment in U.S. history,” recruiting prostitutes, graduate students, nurses and faculty wives from their base from the medical school campus at Washington University in St. Louis.

Their psychological and physiological research, involving hundreds of couples -- not all of them married -- was published in two best-selling books, 1966’s Human Sexual Response and 1970's Human Sexual Inadequacy.

Masters & Johnson became media celebrities and appeared on such shows as The Tonight Show Starring Johnny Carson and The Mike Douglas Show.

They were married in 1971 and divorced in 1992. Masters died in 2001.

A private funeral is planned.