TV Psychologist Dr. Joyce Brothers Dies at 85

Joyce Brothers 2004 - P 2013
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Joyce Brothers 2004 - P 2013

She won the game show “The $64,000 Question,” a victory that led her to dole out advice to television viewers and newspaper readers for decades.

Dr. Joyce Brothers, the former housewife and quiz show contestant who dispensed advice to millions of Americans as television’s first psychologist, died Monday, her publicist announced. She was 85.

Brothers died at her home in Fort Lee, N.J., her daughter Lisa told The New York Times. No cause of death immediately was known.

Brothers shot to fame in 1955 when she spent seven weeks on the air to win the popular TV game show The $64,000 Question as an expert on boxing (she was the second overall winner and the first woman to win). The housewife didn’t know anything about the sport, but her husband was a fan, and she studied the Encyclopedia of Boxing after the sponsors suggested it as her topic. (She applied as expert in home economics and psychology.)

Later, Brothers appeared on a successor program, The $64,000 Challenge, and won that show, too.

Her victories led the petite blonde to do color commentary for CBS on a March 1958 fight between Carmen Basilio and Sugar Ray Robinson. She is believed to be the first woman to call a boxing telecast.

In August 1958, Brothers -- a licensed psychologist with a master's and Ph.D. who stayed home to take care of her young daughter -- was given her own TV show on a New York station, doling out advice about relationships and answering questions from the audience. She received thousands of letters from throughout the country, and the show soon was syndicated nationally.

Brothers went on to host syndicated advice shows on TV and radio, wrote a syndicated column that at its height was printed in more than 300 newspapers and had a monthly column in Good Housekeeping magazine for nearly four decades. She appeared in dozens of TV shows and films, and she was one of The Tonight Show’s most frequent guests when Johnny Carson was hosting, appearing nearly 100 times.

She also penned several best-selling books, including 1982’s What Every Woman Should Know About Men.

Joyce Diane Bauer was born Oct. 29, 1929, in New York, the oldest of two daughters. Her parents were attorneys.

After graduating from Far Rockaway High School in 1943, she entered Cornell University, majoring in psychology and graduating with honors. At Columbia University, she earned her Ph.D., doing graduate work in behavior and personality. She also was an assistant in psychology and a teaching fellow and instructor at Hunter College.

Shortly after receiving her master’s in 1949, she married Milton Brothers, a medical student. When Lisa, their only child, was born, Brothers chose to remain at home to raise their daughter. But with the family struggling on her husband’s meager income, Brothers came up with the idea of entering a TV quiz show.

Years after Brothers’ wins, it was revealed that quiz show producers had been rigging the outcome of some shows, including The $64,000 Question, by giving favored contestants the answers in advance.

Brothers later denied any knowledge of cheating, and during a 1959 hearing in the quiz show scandal, a producer exonerated her of involvement.

Brothers appeared as herself on scores of TV shows including The Smothers Brothers Comedy Hour, Happy Days, Ally McBeal, Police SquadSuddenly Susan, The Nanny, The Simpsons and Entourage and in such films as Dear God (1996), Lover’s Knot (1996), Beethoven’s 4th (2001), Van Wilder (2002) and Analyze That (2002). 

Her husband of 39 years died in 1989. In addition to Lisa, survivors include her sister Elaine, four grandchildren and two great-grandchildren.