Your astrologer dies, and what then?

You're adrift, a bit. (Or: "Separation from loved one is painful but temporary. Lunar position highlights philosophy, publishing, travel. . . .")

Some people pay personal astrologers to map their destiny in accordance with the heavens above. The rest of us -- lovelorn, broke, mystified -- would read Sydney Omarr, somewhere in the back of the paper, with varying degrees of devotion. Reading Omarr's syndicated horoscope column every day is easier than consciously trying not to read it, much like the extra work it would take to avoid "The Family Circus." (You marvel at two things: the perpetuity and the popularity.)

And yes, he must have seen the end coming: By the time he died Thursday, Omarr (born Sidney Kimmelman 76 years ago in Philadelphia) was paralyzed from the neck down and blind from multiple sclerosis. He died Thursday in a Santa Monica, Calif., hospital after a heart attack, surrounded by friends and the assistant who used to sit by his bedside and type up his prognostications on an IBM Selectric. Also his ex-wife was there. She was a fashion model, once, and they were married for a few months in the mid-1960s.

Such a California story, all of it: Bedridden celeb astrologer, propped up by silken pillows, gazing off into the ether and seeing the fates in palm-tree shadows. The sun, the moon, and so many stars. Stars and stars and stars, such as Angie Dickinson. (They met, according to a Los Angeles Times profile of Omarr last month, on the set of "The Merv Griffin Show" and remained forever friends.)

His column, which runs in The Washington Post and 200 other newspapers, will be continued by his longtime assistant and ex-wife, Jeraldine Saunders, Tribune Media Services announced yesterday. Omarr had already written the horoscopes that will run through March 22, and then Saunders will take over.

This is neither the time nor place to question the merits of astrology. The basic merit of astrology is simply this: to satisfy a gnawing need to place yourself each morning into the larger cosmos and see how it's going. (And in the case of Cosmo, the magazine, something stirs in the female soul when the horoscope seems so true. Astrology is still a sure way to attract female readers and if you disagree, then look for a horoscope in Field & Stream. Women flocked around Omarr in his heyday, but he once said that it wasn't him they loved, it was astrology.)

A horoscope can often feel accurate, if you let it, and Omarr fought the long, good fight to keep his craft respectable. Telling millions of people, seven days a week, what was going to happen to them and steer them in all those directions -- imagine the power.

Omarr was a Leo, and here is the horoscope for him (and by him) on the day he died, a numerological jackpot of 01/02/03: "Get work done early; check records, correct any mathematical error. Later you beat the odds, much to the astonishment of experts."

What can it mean?

What could it ever mean: Popular astrology for the masses has a language all its own -- specifically general, vaguely relevant, and not easy to divine in three lines of text every day. Over his career he sold some 50 million books. He cavorted with celebrities, athletes, authors, politicians.

And he never had a bad day. Libras, for example, never once opened the paper and read: "Your life is pathetic. Quit bothering me. Some sit-ups might be a good start."

No, he was always looking up. Though laced with a thrilling sense of caution, his predictions were never seriously gloomy. He was always warding us away from the subtle dangers of daily life, and pointing toward good fortune.

The son of a grocer, Sidney Kimmelman was the kind of kid who hung out too long in the magic shop. He was inspired to change what he saw as a drab, Jewish surname into the much more exotic-sounding Omarr (with two r's). He once said he got the idea from a Victor Mature movie.

He began making predictions for movie-star magazines when he was a teenager. In Okinawa during World War II, he started offering forecasts of horse races on an Armed Forces Radio show. He worked as a journalist for United Press International and CBS Radio, and eventually landed a column writing about astrology and movie stars.

His franchise will live on, but what vanishes with Sydney Omarr is another cornerstone of the old newspaper, old like the typesetters and older than USA Today. All the way in the back of the lifestyle pages lies the world of canned features, which no editor in his or her right mind ever tries to muck around with. Omarr was livelier than the bridge column, more populist than the wine column. You could be anywhere, reading any paper, and there was Sydney Omarr to steer you, with that name that sounded vaguely exotic, and all-seeing. You sometimes stop reading your own horoscope after you stop reading the horoscope of an ex. You finally decide to go it alone, without anyone to guide you.

Perhaps he views it all from some celestial vantage point now, and has all the answers. Three lines of type would no longer suffice for what Omarr now sees.

Aside from his sister, Sydney Omarr is survived by the Sydney Omarr slot machine. It was unveiled in Las Vegas last September, and it delighted him, though he long ago gave up predicting the odds for gamblers and focused, instead, on the riskier prospects for love.

Like Ann Landers, Sydney Omarr kept readers turning to the back of features sections for years.The astrologer steered people away from potential hazards but left them enough leeway to take charge of their own lives.