Dr. Joyce Brothers, 85; TV psychologist and columnist

Dr. Joyce Brothers, 85, who held a PhD in psychology and was one of the best known of those who provided the American public with personal counseling through the mass media, died May 13 at her home in Fort Lee, N.J.

Her daughter, Lisa Brothers Arbisser, said she died of respiratory failure, according to the Associated Press.

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A seemingly unlikely knowledge of boxing first drew public attention to Dr. Brothers, but her long career was founded on what were seen as the sympathy, sincerity and psychological knowledge that she provided.

Among those who confronted the troubles and torments of the multitude, Dr. Brothers seemed to stand out for her ability to give concise, comprehensible advice.

Although her scholarly training was undeniable, her suggestions came in everyday language, without resort to cant, jargon or bewildering complexity.

Her solutions, ideas and recommendations appeared in a syndicated newspaper column that at one point ran in more than 300 papers. A column ran for many years in 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 greater self-knowledge, had their greatest access to Dr. Brothers through her constant television appearances.

She did not shrink from frank talk about topics that until then had been the subject only of whispers. She responded to society’s growing desire to speak publicly about matters once kept private.

“I invented media psychology,” she was once quoted as telling The Washington Post. “I was the first. The founding mother.”

In such statements could be heard the confidence that accompanied what were described as her personal shyness and quiet, unassuming private demeanor.

In addition to familiarity with the latest discoveries about the mind, Dr. Brothers had a presence, charm and mental quickness that brought media success.

Over the years, she became the face of American psychology, playing herself on many television shows. She was a frequent guest on talk shows, and her face and name were recognizable instantly to millions.

In addition to her key role in opening the airwaves to serious discussion of the most intimate matters of heart and mind, Dr. Brothers was a pioneer in what is now known as reality television.

Fame arrived almost 60 years ago, in the mid-1950s, when television, still in its early years, drew vast audiences each week to a game show called “The $64,000 Question.”

Apparently in recognition of its seeming incongruity, it was suggested that the 5-foot-tall Dr. Brothers should be questioned about boxing.

Supported by intensive study and a capacious memory, she gained growing fame as she responded correctly week after week to the most abstruse inquiries about ring history.

On she went, answering one stumper after another, until she at last answered the daunting $64,000 question.

In time, it was alleged that the show was scripted rather than spontaneous and that favorite contestants were fed answers. Dr. Brothers maintained that she had not received such help, and inquiries into the operations of the show indicated that her triumphs were untainted.

“I’d memorized everything there was to know about the subject,” she once said.

At the time, she was a new mother and the wife of a medical resident, whose stipend was a mere $50 a month. The family financial pinch provided motivation for poring over the record books of the fistic world.

“We were hungry,” Dr. Brothers told Coronet magazine. She later triumphed on a second game show, “The $64,000 Challenge.”

Soon she moved on, making a name for herself throughout the media world in the field in which she had been trained.

It did not matter whether the program was called “The Dr. Joyce Brothers Show” or “Consult Dr. Brothers” or “Living Easy With Dr. Joyce Brothers.” So long as it was hers, viewers and listeners, including the depressed and the dejected, sought out her gentle manner and reasonable prescriptions.

Fans also perused the pages of “What Every Woman Should Know About Men,” which appeared in 1982, and her other books. One was “How to Get Whatever You Want Out of Life.” It could be done, she said, without harm to other people.

It was important to her, she said, to make available to the public much of the “useful research locked up in libraries . . . research that people could put to use in their own lives.”

In 1971, she was credited with keeping a caller to her radio show from committing suicide.

Joyce Diane Bauer, who took the last name of her husband, Dr. Milton Brothers, was born to two lawyers in New York City in October 1927. A sister became a lawyer. After high school in Queens, she received a bachelor’s degree from Cornell University in 1947.

While studying the psychology of behavior and personality at Columbia University, she taught at Hunter College in New York.

She earned a Columbia master’s degree in 1949, just before her marriage, and a doctorate in 1953. Her dissertation involved the experimental study of links among anxiety, behavior and the action potential of muscles.

Her husband died in 1989. Survivors include a daughter, Lisa. The family had homes in Upstate New York and in Fort Lee, N.J., across the Hudson River from Manhattan.

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