Before there was Oprah and Dr. Phil, there was Dear Abby.
Pauline Phillips, who under the pen name Dear Abby dispensed common-sense but frank advice to generations through her globally syndicated column, has died at the age of 94 in Minneapolis, her syndicate, Universal Uclick, confirmed. She had been suffering from Alzheimer’s disease for about a decade.
“In her column, Mrs. Phillips championed equal rights for women, minorities, people with mental illness and those who are physically challenged. The column has promoted AIDS awareness and education, hospice care, the living will, organ donation and also raised awareness about gender apartheid suffered by women in Afghanistan,” Universal Uclick said in a statement.
With her identical twin sister, “Anne Landers” , who died in 2002 and penned her own famous column, Phillips, who went by Abigail Van Buren for the column, was a cultural force from almost the moment her column debuted in 1956, when she was a northern California housewife.
The New York Times described her as a ” trusted, tart-tongued adviser to tens of millions,” and cited several examples of her wit, which could veer into the titillating at times. For example:
Dear Abby: Are birth control pills deductible? — Bertie
Dear Bertie: Only if they don’t work.
She ran the column for decades, for part of the time with the help of her daughter, Jeanne, who took it over in 2000 and said on Thursday:
“My mother leaves very big high heels to fill with a legacy of compassion,commitment and positive social change. I will honor her memory every day by continuing this legacy.”
The column became a very public showcase for the very private problems and dilemmas of Americans in an era when such openness uncommon, and foreshadowed confessional talk-shows and advice gurus like Dr. Phil.