'Ann Landers' dead at 83

By United Press International  |  June 22, 2002 at 11:48 PM
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CHICAGO, June 22 (UPI) -- "Eppie" Lederer, better known as Ann Landers, the world's most widely syndicated newspaper columnist, died Saturday afternoon. She was 83.

For more than four decades the advice columnist charted ways to accommodate a changing world for readers who shared their most intimate problems.

She succumbed to multiple myeloma, The Chicago Tribune said in announcing the death on the front page of the paper that served as her home base since 1987.

Although Esther Pauline Lederer had assumed the Ann Landers-named column for The Chicago Sun-Times when she succeeded the previous columnist in 1955, the Ann Landers name now dies with her, the Tribune said.

Ann Landers, as the most widely syndicated columnist in the world, was acknowledged as one of the most influential women in America. She was not the only advice columnist in the family, however. Her twin sister built her own following in her "Dear Abbie" advice columns for a competing syndicate.

Ann Landers had honorary degrees from 33 colleges and universities and was the first journalist to receive the Albert Lasker Public Service Award.

She received more than 2,000 letters each day from all over the world. With help from four staff members, she scanned the letters and personally wrote the answers, offering advice to her readers seven days a week through a column that appeared in 1,200 newspapers worldwide.

The column's changing subject matter through the years became a lens for researchers interested in how American society copes with the changes in life styles and outlooks.

The result was a body of work that reveals a lot about the often dramatic changes in society through the years and in how those changes grew to be acknowledged by her customers, newspaper editors.

Her Tribune editor for the past five years, Rick Kogan, said, "I think that 200 years from now, if an anthropologist really wants to know what life in these United States -- all of the United States -- was like, all he or she might have to do is read every one of Ann Landers' columns."

Ann Landers was born Esther Pauline Friedman, nicknamed "Eppie," on July 4, 1918 in Sioux City, Iowa. She attended Morningside College from 1936 to 1939 but left in her senior year, as did her sister.

She married Jules Lederer when she was 21 in a double wedding ceremony with her sister. Their new husbands became good friends.

A year later she had a daughter, Margo. For 16 years, she was content to be a housewife while her husband built his business, Budget Rent-A-Car. Then, in 1955, the family moved to Chicago and Lederer filled the Sun-Times opening for an advice columnist.

While Ann and her twin Pauline Esther Friedman, nicknamed "Popo" and later known to millions as "Abigail Van Buren," grew up in the traditional twin mold, they became rivals as columnists. But many newspapers ran both columns.

The two sisters took slightly different approaches. Ann Landers generally wrote deadpan, straight-from-the-shoulder answers to sensitive questions from readers while Abigail as "Dear Abby" often indulged in witty comments her replies to queries.

Ann Landers won many awards for her columns and for her tireless outside work for what she considered worthy causes. She received the President's Citation of the National Council on Alcoholism in 1966 and in 1968 the Gallup Poll included her among the 20 most-admired women in the world.

In an interview, Landers said, "I have learned that no matter how well educated, well balanced or well bred a person may be, each of us is capable of doing something completely irrational, completely out of character at some time during our lives ... and this doesn't mean we are crazy. It merely means we are human."

Landers said in spite of changes in marriages, divorces, drugs and family styles, the world was not getting worse.

"I think the human animal is a survivor," she said. "There are going to be changes, but we're survivors. The good guys are gonna win. The gun nuts are going to keep yelling and screaming, but they aren't going to make important changes in the way we live. I sometimes worry about drugs, I worry about that. But we have a way of landing on our feet."

The columnist who advised so many women about their often faltering marriages saw her own marriage to Lederer end in 1975 after 36 years. She announced it in her column, leaving the bottom third blank "in honor of a great marriage that never made it to the finish line," the Tribune said.

She had been opposed to divorce in her column until her own. At the time, she was prompted to say, "I only wish I had someone to write to for help."

In recent years, Landers resigned a number of positions that required her attention and no longer gave speeches. While she accepted honorary degrees she did not as a rule like to give commencement addresses. "You work too hard on the speeches and nobody listens," she said.

Much of Landers' writing was done in her fashionable Chicago apartment, often while taking a bath. She wrote most of her columns on a typewriter and never on a computer.

Landers did not hesitate to change her advice if she heard from enough readers that she was wrong. Once, when she advised a woman to keep secret a child abuse by a relative, she heard from thousands of readers who disagreed. "Slap me with a wet noodle," Landers replied when she reversed her advice in a following column.

She was author of six books, mostly collections of her columns, published by her own company, Eppie Co., of which she was president.

She leaves her twin sister, daughter Margo, three grandchildren and four great-grandchildren.

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