Dr. David Viscott, the popular but sometimes stern radio psychotherapist who was among the pioneers of on-the-air counseling, was found dead Monday, apparently of a heart attack. He was 58.
Los Angeles police spokesman Jason Lee said a cleaning crew found Viscott’s body in his bed at his Studio City home shortly after 2 p.m. He was alone at the time.
Viscott had been battling heart problems for the last few months, which prompted investigators to believe he died of a heart attack, Lee said. Police released the body to relatives after it was determined he died of natural causes, he said, and no autopsy will be performed.
From 1980 to April of 1993, Viscott was a well-known figure to Los Angeles-area radio listeners through his call-in talk show on KABC-AM radio. Matt Small, Viscott’s business partner for 11 years, said he believed Viscott was the first psychiatrist (with a medical degree in addition to therapy training) to go into the radio counseling field, where some psychologists were already active.
“He pioneered the idea of radio therapy,” said Small. “He took a late-night show on KABC and then the rest is history. He became everyone’s drive-time friend for years.”
He diagnosed callers’ woes on the air, just minutes after listening to their problems, and sometimes dispensed “tough love” therapy, interrupting them and dictating marching orders to reform their lives.
Viscott called his style of counseling the “Viscott method,” which he said was based on enhancing a love for self and others, through three basic elements: speed, simplicity and a relentless pursuit of truth. Viscott held that without confronting the truth head on, no caller could ever adequately deal with whatever was troubling them.
His soothing voice and confident manner drew a nationwide following in syndication at the peak of his career, which had fallen off in recent years.
He made two attempts at television shows. The early-morning “Getting in Touch with Dr. David Viscott” was canceled by KNBC in 1988. He made a comeback in 1992 with “Talk with Dr. David Viscott” which began airing in nationwide syndication.
After leaving his longtime base, KABC, in 1993, he hosted a 9 p.m.-to-midnight show on KMPC-AM for most of 1995. When his show was dropped there, he appeared on KIEV-AM for several months this year, and was being heard on KIIS once a week when he died.
“He was a complicated man,” Small said Monday. “His greatest joy was helping other people. He lived with the belief that everyone had gifts and the purpose of their lives was to give that gift away. He believed his gift was helping people. And he took to his grave his desire to help people.”
“He was a damned good broadcaster” who understood how to reach callers with heartfelt, simplistic advice, said KABC radio personality Michael Jackson. “He certainly truly made his mark in radio in this city.”
Jackson described Viscott as “a very intense man, extremely bright . . . [and] exceedingly ambitious.”
Of his death, Jackson said: “What a lonely way to go. . . . I never met a friend of his--to the best of my knowledge, he was very much a loner.”
Born in Boston, Viscott received his MD from Tufts Medical School in 1963, taught at University Hospital there, then set up a private practice in 1968. He moved to Los Angeles in 1979 and was a professor of psychiatry at UCLA from 1980 to 1982. He made his radio debut in 1980, substituting for a fellow therapist on KABC. Soon, he got his own show.
He published the first of several books, “The Making of a Psychiatrist,” in 1973, and “The Language of Feelings” in 1975. In 1993, he published “Emotional Resilience: Simple Truths for Dealing With the Unfinished Business of Your Past.”
In 1984, he set up the Viscott Institute, which grew into a chain of three Viscott Centers for Natural Therapy around Southern California, where therapists helped patients using Viscott’s methods in short-term psychotherapy.
In 1982, he married his second wife, Katherine, from whom he was separated. He had four children.