Mr. McPhee’s top-rated radio program aired in the country’s biggest markets, including New York, Los Angeles, Houston, Salt Lake City, Minneapolis and San Francisco.
On the air, he sought to legitimize dream interpretation, a field of study that he said had strayed from its roots in the pioneering work of Sigmund Freud and Carl Jung.
Mr. McPhee, a Princeton graduate who wrote his thesis on dreaming, was among the first to admit that many in the public “associate dreams with astrology and tarot cards and horoscopes.”
“That’s the disaster portion of what’s happened in the field,” he told the Seattle Times in 2006.
With his academic approach and magnetic personality, Mr. McPhee was one of the first to popularize dream interpretation to a national audience through radio, said Veronica Tonay, a University of Santa Cruz psychology professor and fellow dream expert.
Mr. McPhee, who was tall and muscular with sandy blond hair and blue eyes, easily relayed his charisma and Southern California surfer cool through the radio waves, Tonay said.
A woman who once called in to his show said she had dreamed that she had arrived at her job as a waitress and started killing animals with her bare hands and ripped off the head of a cat.
Mr. McPhee suggested that in dreams animals are symbols for children and that cats represent fertility. The woman then said that her husband wanted kids but that she wanted to wait. Mr. McPhee said her dream was telling her “you’re not ready for babies yet.”
Another caller said he had a dream in which he was immobilized by glass shards stuck in his feet.
Mr. McPhee said that dreaming about feet can be a sign that you seek a change in your life’s direction. The man said that he hated his job and wanted to move on.
In 1997, Mr. McPhee started a Web site and invited people to send him descriptions of their dreams. He collected more than 600,000 dreams from 90 countries and used the data for his interpretations.
Overall, he found that regardless of nationality, age, gender, language or culture, people around the world dream about the same things.
“Our hopes and fears, our immediate and long-term goals, old wounds and fresh ones — they’re all there in our dreams every night,” Mr. McPhee said in 2006.
Not long after the ALS diagnosis in June 2006, Mr. McPhee had a dream that he was blind. He interpreted his own dream to mean that he was not seeing the severity of his illness. He canceled his show after he began to slur his speech, a common symptom of ALS, and spent more time deciphering his own legacy.
“My big goal in life was to learn and understand the language of dreams,” he told the New York Times in 2006. “I really feel like I’ve done it.”