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'Dear Abby' dies at age 94

Pauline Friedman Phillips, who under the name of Abigail Van Buren, wrote the long-running "Dear Abby" advice column that was followed by millions of newspaper readers throughout the world, has died. She was 94.

Publicist Gene Willis of Universal Uclick said Phillips died Wednesday after a long battle with Alzheimer's disease.

Phillips' column competed for decades with the advice column of Ann Landers, written by her twin sister, Esther Friedman Lederer. Their relationship was stormy in their early adult years, but later they regained the close relationship 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 one-liners.

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."

Asked about Viagra, she 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."

One trend Phillips adamantly opposed: children having sex as early as 12 years old.

"Kids grow up awfully fast these days," she said. "You should try to have a good relationship with your kids, no matter what they do."

The woman known to the world as Ann Landers died in June 2002. Later that year, the family revealed that Phillips had been diagnosed with Alzheimer's disease. By then Phillips' daughter, Jeanne Phillips, who had helped her mother with the Dear Abby column for years, was its sole author.

The Canadian Press


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