Biography[ edit ] In Viscott began presenting his own full-time show on talk radio , and was notably one of the first psychiatrists to do so talk station KABC. He screened telephone calls and gave considerable amount of free psychological counselling to his on-air "patients. David Viscott, providing much the same service as his radio show. In fact, the shows ran concurrently.
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She has trouble trusting men, she tells the late-night television talk show host. David Viscott listens to her with the gentleness of a kindly uncle, probing her pain delicately. It was tough love and no nonsense. His followers adored him, a short, pudgy man whose thick Boston accent made him seem more approachable. When his television show ran, the 12 phone lines in his office were jammed with calls a day. Abrasively confident on the air, megalomaniacal off it, Viscott was never in doubt about what other people should do with their lives.
But when his own life began to crumble, he turned out to be clueless. Viscott died alone in October, drained of money and prestige, the apparent victim of heart disease. But in cases in which a policy is purchased so close to the time of death, the company always investigates, a spokesman said. At the time of his death, Viscott was depressed, estranged from his wife, a daughter and several close friends.
His two attempts at television shows never took hold. His efforts at a screenplay were a flop. His marriage had spiraled into a painful state of flux, according to friends and family members.
Police were occasionally summoned to his home to break up domestic squabbles, according to court records. Before his funeral, the family had not been united since , when his eldest daughter, Liz, now a year-old book editor in New York City, got married. He obtained a restraining order against her, claiming in court documents that she had attacked him with a rake on one occasion and threatened to smash the glass French doors of his bedroom with an iron-rod-framed mirror and punched him on another.
He filed for divorce, but his resolve melted, and the rest of his life was punctuated by a tempestuous on-again, off-again relationship. Get out! Advertisement Such was the dichotomy between radio life and real life.
The maestro of emotion is not swayed. As early as the s, psychologist Joyce Brothers had begun chatting on the radio about topics such as impotency and frigidity. But it was not until the s that a psychologist named Toni Grant changed the rules of the game by taking live calls on the air in Los Angeles.
Call-in radio therapy soon pervaded our homes, cars and offices, allowing us to eavesdrop on garden-variety and parade-sized problems. Best yet, each problem had a tidy solution, perfect for a society that desired its personal crises to be resolved as quickly as TV dramas. To hear him tell it, he had been blessed from boyhood with a sense of calling. The son of a pharmacist, Viscott grew up in Dorchester, Mass. Even as a young child, he told friends, he began hearing voices mystically instructing him that his purpose in life was to help people.
His mother shared her love of poetry and the arts. He graduated from Dartmouth College and Tufts Medical School and married his childhood sweetheart at 21, partly out of a sense of obligation after her parents were killed in a car crash. He set up a practice in Massachusetts and began writing books. After 17 years, his marriage faltered, and Viscott met Katharine Random in a ski-lift line in Killington, Vt.
Random was vacationing for a week with her then-boyfriend, who broke his arm their first day on the slopes.
She skied alone for the rest of their stay, and on her next-to-last day, she shared a chairlift with Viscott. We hit it off pretty good, pretty fast. This man belongs on the radio, Sherwin remembers thinking.
But Viscott had more-traditional interests--treating patients and writing. For weeks he wooed Viscott over lunch at the Beverly Hills Hotel. Flattered, Viscott began filling in for Grant. Reassured, Viscott was ready for the next call. Lisa, 27, awaits on line She does it because her roommate is always belittling her, she tells Viscott. Viscott furrows his brow and doodles with his pen. There is no goodbye or good luck.
The man who claimed he could teach you your special gift fancied himself as a gift to the modern world, a visionary therapist who would surpass Freud. His unquenchable ego began to shape his ultimate downfall, friends and former friends say. Luckily, most of the time it was highly entertaining.
It was fun to hear him call up with his newest notion. It did matter that Horwitz was never negative. I was always invited to parties and events so I could tell him how great he was.
There was nothing I had to do except be his friend and listen and nod my head like a Chihuahua. Viscott twirled the beverage in his glass, sniffed it, tasted it. After his approval, the maid served the root beer to Horwitz. Then Viscott entertained his guest with a four-hour monologue on electroshock therapy and concluded that Horwitz would benefit from it.
Horwitz ignored the advice. So needy for an audience was Viscott that he would invite his friend David Greenberg to his office to watch him write. Even when Viscott was wrong, he was right. One evening, as Leichtling watched Viscott field calls during his radio show, a young man from Toronto phoned in.
Viscott talked briefly to the student, then turned to Leichtling with the microphone off and announced that the underlying problem was. Leichtling was awe-struck. Viscott proceeded to question the young man, probing for material to buttress his theory. Advertisement Have you had problems with alcohol? Do your parents have problems with substance abuse? In fact, the caller said, no one in my family drinks. It was a crucial promotional opportunity, but Viscott could not resist the opportunity to touch upon his favorite topic: himself.
How he massaged his thick copper-brown hair, of which he was always inordinately proud, with baby oil. As he talked to the reporter, he devoured a bowl of mixed nuts.
The best thing I have is my capacity to love people and find something in them to love. I help them understand what they feel. He would moon people on the street, start a food fight at a restaurant or put a cookie beneath the nose of his sleeping dog. You can do better, Viscott answered.
Advertisement Dad, I want to make my own mistakes, Melanie said. The relationship lasted eight months. Why do you feel she is a gold digger? Viscott asks. She never stays over, she has her own apartment, the boy says. Do they have sex? The boy assumes so. Advertisement How long have they been together? Six months, the boy says. They got married a month ago. Is your dad well off? Have you spoken to him? No, not yet, the boy says. If you love your father and you have this fear, you need to express your fear, Viscott says.
Do you know what a friend is? Advertisement One friend suggested Viscott tell his audience the complex truths about his own life. It would have made him more human, more like his fans. Like Beethoven.
By , he was poised to achieve his greatest success. He was offered a late-night television program that was being considered for nationwide syndication. For a while, he juggled both his TV show and his radio program, making it clear to everyone that he thought his future was in television. It was no contest. David was one of the victims. Viscott took it in stride. After all, he had what he really wanted--his television program, and there was talk of not only national but international syndication.
Then the unthinkable occurred: The syndication deal fell through. A business based on short-term therapy needs a constant supply of new clients. Without the drumbeat of publicity provided by a radio or TV show, the clientele began to disappear.
Advertisement Instead of focusing on this defeat, Viscott--the ultimate spin doctor--bubbled over with talk of his future projects: a movie, therapy via the Internet, a Viscott Web page, another book.
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