'Dear Abby' columnist Pauline Phillips dies

Pauline Phillips was better known as "Dear Abby," the advice columnist who helped thousands.

Beloved advice guru Dear Abby has died at the age of 94.

Pauline Phillips, better known as Abigail Van Buren, dispensed advice to thousands through her "Dear Abby" column. Phillips died Wednesday after struggling with Alzheimer’s disease.

The popular column gave readers advice on everything from weddings and in-laws to proper restaurant etiquette.

By the time her family revealed she was diagnosed with Alzheimer's disease in 2002, her daughter, Jeanne Phillips, who had helped her mother with the "Dear Abby" column for years, was its sole author.

TMZ said Jeanne Phillips plans to continue her mother's legacy. "I have lost my mother, my mentor and my best friend," she said. "My mother leaves very big high heels to fill with a legacy of compassion, commitment and positive social change."

"Dear Abby" was not afraid to address Alzheimer's disease in columns. In a Dec. 7, 2012, letter, a reader wrote to Abby, "My 62-year-old husband was recently diagnosed with Alzheimer's disease, and I have since learned that his co-workers spotted his troubles long before I did at home. … Friends, when you notice someone is declining, please speak up."

Abby wrote back, "Although there have been warnings that it was coming for years, the Alzheimer's epidemic is here now, and millions more families will be touched by this progressive – and ultimately fatal – disease."

According to ABC, before becoming "Dear Abby," Pauline Phillips was a modest, 37-year-old stay-at-home mom. In 1956, she saw an advice column in the San Francisco Chronicle and told the paper she could do better, ABC reported. From there, she launched a career that made "Dear Abby" a comforting household name.

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.

Landers died in June 2002.

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 Associated Press contributed to this report.

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