MINNEAPOLIS — Pauline Friedman Phillips, who as Dear Abby dispensed snappy, sometimes saucy advice on love, marriage and meddling mothers-in-law to millions of newspaper readers around the world and opened the way for the likes of Dr. Ruth, Dr. Phil and Oprah, has died. She was 94.
Phillips died Wednesday in Minneapolis after a long battle with Alzheimer's disease, said Gene Willis, a publicist for the Universal Uclick syndicate.
"My mother leaves very big high heels to fill with a legacy of compassion, commitment and positive social change," her daughter, Jeanne Phillips, who now writes the column, said in a statement.
Private funeral services were held Thursday, Willis said.
The long-running "Dear Abby" column first appeared in the San Francisco Chronicle in 1956. Mother and daughter started sharing the byline in 2000, and Jeanne Phillips took over in 2002, when the family announced Pauline Phillips had Alzheimer's disease.
Pauline Phillips wrote under the name Abigail Van Buren. Her column competed for decades with the advice of Ann Landers, written by her twin sister, Esther Friedman Lederer, who died in 2002. Their relationship was stormy in their early adult years, but they later regained the closeness they had growing up in Sioux City, Iowa.
The two columns differed in style. Ann Landers responded to questioners with homey, detailed advice. Abby's replies were often flippant and occasionally risqué one-liners, like some of those collected for her 1981 book "The Best of Dear Abby."
Dear Abby: My boyfriend is going to be 20 years old next month. I'd like to give him something nice for his birthday. What do you think he'd like? — Carol
Dear Carol: Nevermind what he'd like, give him a tie.
Dear Abby: What inspires you most to write? — Ted
Dear Ted: The Bureau of Internal Revenue.
Dear Abby: I've been going with this girl for a year. How can I get her to say yes? — Don
Dear Don: What's the question?
Phillips admitted that her advice changed over the years. When she started writing the column, she was reluctant to advocate divorce:
"I always thought that marriage should be forever," she explained. "I found out through my readers that sometimes the best thing they can do is part. If a man or woman is a constant cheater, the situation can be intolerable. Especially if they have children. When kids see parents fighting, or even sniping at each other, I think it is terribly damaging."
She willingly expressed views that she realized would bring protests. In a 1998 interview she remarked: "Whenever I say a kind word about gays, I hear from people, and some of them are damn mad. People throw Leviticus, Deuteronomy and other parts of the Bible to me. It doesn't bother me. I've always been compassionate toward gay people."
If the letters sounded suicidal, she took a personal approach: "I'll call them. I say, 'This is Abby. How are you feeling? You sounded awfully low.' And they say, 'You're calling me?' After they start talking, you can suggest that they get professional help."
In a time before confessional talk shows and the nothing-is-too-private culture of the Internet, the sisters' columns offered a rare window into Americans' private lives and a forum for discussing marriage, sex and the swiftly changing mores of the 1950s, '60s and '70s.
Asked about Viagra, Phillips replied: "It's wonderful. Men who can't perform feel less than manly, and Viagra takes them right off the spot."
About working mothers: "I think it's good to have a woman work if she wants to and doesn't leave her children unattended — if she has a reliable person to care for them. Kids still need someone to watch them until they are mature enough to make responsible decisions."
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