OFF BEAT

OFFBEAT: Original 'Dear Abby' dead at age 94

Phil Potempa's daily entertainment news column
2013-01-18T00:00:00Z OFFBEAT: Original 'Dear Abby' dead at age 94Philip Potempa philip.potempa@nwi.com, (219) 852-4327 nwitimes.com

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

Publicist Gene Willis of Universal Uclick, which continues to sydicate the "Dear Abby" feature, said Phillips died Wednesday after a long battle with Alzheimer's disease.

For decades, her column competed with the advice column of her twin sister, who wrote under the Chicago-based pen name Ann Landers in place of her real name Esther Friedman Lederer. Though they grew up close in Sioux City, Iowa, the sisters had a roller coaster relationship in later years, all started by a spat from Phillips launching her advice column just a year following her sister's beginnings in the field and finding success.

Today, it is Jeanne Phillips as writer Abigail Van Buren, who is author of the legendary "Dear Abby" syndicated advice column.

Billed as "the most widely syndicated newspaper columnist in the world" by Universal Syndicate, the Dear Abby daily advice column feature appears in 1,400 newspapers worldwide, boasting a daily readership of more than 110 million people.

When I interviewed Jeanne Phillips while she was in Chicago last summer to speak at an event, she explained her mother's declining health state.

The "Dear Abby" advice column was founded in 1956 by Jeanne's mother, Pauline "Popo" Phillips, who celebrated her 94th birthday on July 4.

The rival "Ask Ann Landers" syndicated advice column was written by her twin from 1955 until she died of cancer June 22, 2002, at age 83.

As a teenager, Jeanne first began working with her mother providing clerical assistance and sorting the large volume of daily mail.

By December 2000, Jeanne began sharing the column feature's photo byline with her mother, credited as a collaborator.

But after an appearance by Phillips on Larry King's CNN talk show in June 2002, King questioned why her mother, Pauline, had not publicly commented about the death of her twin sister earlier that month.

It was then that the family announced the original Abigail Van Buren suffered from the onset of Alzheimer's disease, and that Jeanne was now assuming a share of all the writing duties for the column dating back to 1987. In 2002, Jeanne became the sole photo and name byline for the column feature, with her mother announcing her retirement.

She said her mother, and father, Morton Phillips, who is still alive at age 95, shared in a condo in Minneapolis with around-the-clock care.

"My father served as my mother's power-of-attorney and then my brother Eddie was in that role until his death last year," Jeanne told me when we chatted last summer.

"It's his son, my nephew, who is a physician, who now serves in this decision-making role. It's a very complicated situation and the reason why it is so important that each person makes their own wishes known while they are able. I knew from what she had told her long-time assistant that she never wanted to be in a nursing home, so we always respected that wish."

The opinions expressed are solely those of the writer. He can be reached at philip.potempa@nwi.com or (219) 852-4327.

Copyright 2014 nwitimes.com. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.

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