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Mother of ‘Dr. Laura’ Found Dead

Times Staff Writers

The mother of radio talk show personality Laura Schlessinger was found dead this week in her Beverly Hills condominium, where she had remained undiscovered for as long as two months. Police said they are investigating it as a homicide.

Neighbors said they had last seen Yolanda Schlessinger, 77, in September. Building managers called police after noticing her uncollected mail. She also had not paid her condo fees.

The younger Schlessinger, who grew wealthy dispensing advice about families and relationships on her radio program, had talked often about being estranged from her mother. She confirmed the death on her radio show Friday.

Police would not say how long Yolanda Schlessinger had been dead. In a statement released before her show Friday, Laura Schlessinger said she was “horrified by the tragic circumstances of my mother’s death, and so sad to learn that she died as she chose to live -- alone and isolated. My mother shut all her family out of her life over the years, though we made several futile attempts to stay connected. May God rest her soul.”

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Later, on the air, Schlessinger said she was, “shocked and horrified” by the suspicion of a crime and, “overwhelmed by sadness,” but blamed their estrangement on her mother. Schlessinger also has a sister.

In a 1994 People magazine profile, Schlessinger said the estrangement dated to 1986, when her mother walked off the job as Laura’s secretary.

Neighbors described Yolanda Schlessinger as a friendly, pleasant, talkative person who seemed “quite bright,” said Edna Neidorff, a former resident of the apartment complex in the 400 block of North Palm Drive.

Neidorff said the victim was chatty with neighbors. They called her “Lundy,” the name she listed on the condo roster.

Schlessinger had lived in the building two or three years with a very noisy, white, parrot-like bird, Neidorff and other neighbors said. Several said they had stopped hearing the bird some weeks ago.

Licia Masi lived in the same building as Yolanda Schlessinger. Masi said that earlier this week, her daughter, a building manager, had called police to check on Schlessinger.

Masi’s daughter had grown concerned because she had not seen Schlessinger in about two months, mail had begun to pile up, and two months had passed without her paying her condo bill, Masi said.

When police entered the apartment, they found the windows slightly ajar -- one reason, Masi said, that no odor was detectable to other residents. Police could not confirm this.

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Why no one noticed the death “is a question that we have,” said Beverly Hills Police Lt. Gary Gilmond, noting that officers were finally alerted only because Schlessinger had not been seen recently.

Police said Friday that they found Yolanda Schlessinger’s body Monday afternoon when officers responded to a request for a check on her welfare.

The victim had been dead “for a substantial period of time,” Gilmond said.

The coroner’s office said an autopsy Wednesday did not immediately reveal the cause of death, and that more tests will be conducted.

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Gilmond said, however, that police “have sufficient information from the coroner that we are handling it as a homicide at this time.”

The case presents detectives with difficulties because so much time has passed, Gilmond said.

Laura Schlessinger, 55, has long been one of talk radio’s biggest stars, internationally syndicated since 1994. In September 1997, Jacor Communications Inc. paid a then-record $71.5 million to buy the show from Synergy Broadcasting Inc.

Although not a professionally trained psychotherapist, “Dr. Laura” (she has a doctorate in physiology) specializes in a sort of tough-love approach to counseling. The Dr. Laura Schlessinger Show began in 1990 on KFI in Los Angeles and is now heard on more than 300 stations worldwide.

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With her stern morality and emphasis on traditional family values, Schlessinger has long been the darling of conservatives and religious conservatives -- called “a positive voice for positive values without equal in our time” by the Rev. Robert Schuller.

But Schlessinger’s popularity has waned somewhat in recent years. She angered supporters of gay rights several years ago by calling homosexuality “a biological error.”

Afterward, she issued a statement saying that she was sorry for causing hurt, but did not retract the substance of the remark.

A syndicated television talk show, “Dr. Laura,” was canceled in 2001 after one season, and Schlessinger blamed an advertising boycott encouraged by gay rights groups.

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She has publicly acknowledged on numerous occasions that she has been estranged from her mother, who she said was “Sophia Loren-like,” since sometime in the mid-1980s.

Her early family life in Brooklyn was troubled, Laura Schlessinger has said.

She has said her parents fought constantly, and her father was physically and emotionally abusive. “I have a background that would curl your hair,” she said in a 1998 interview with The Times.

Speaking with a tremor in her voice unlike her more steely trademark style, Schlessinger said Friday at the close of her show: “I deeply regret that, despite any attempts I made to make contact or stay connected, she died without that ever being accomplished. And it’s very sad. It’s very horrifying, obviously, and very sad.”

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In her show, Schlessinger frequently draws a distinction between good and bad mothers. The theme is so typical of her that she and her fans wear shirts emblazoned with “I Am My Kid’s Mom.”

Schlessinger has accused her own mother of falling short. Schlessinger’s mother, the former Yolanda Ceccovini, was born and raised in Italy, but immigrated to the United States after meeting an American soldier, Monroe Schlessinger, during World War II, according to Laura Schlessinger’s biography.

Ceccovini had been raised Roman Catholic; Schlessinger was Jewish; and their daughter has said that religion was just one of the battlegrounds on which the couple fought in succeeding years. Laura Schlessinger has said she was raised without any religion; she converted to Judaism in 1996.

Masi, the building manager’s mother, said Yolanda Schlessinger was a charming, very conversational person, who spoke English as well as Italian and dressed very elegantly.

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Although she believed the blond, blue-eyed Schlessinger was in her 70s, Masi said the woman looked much younger and had a youthful, jovial manner.

“It’s so strange that she had no visitors,” Masi said. She said Schlessinger never mentioned her famous daughter.

Neidorff described her acquaintance, Schlessinger, as a “lovely lady” who seemed “very wise.”

“She was very friendly,” she said.

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“But very private -- an interesting combination. She had an accent that someone told me was Italian.... She never mentioned her daughter.”

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Times staff writer Hector Becerra and correspondent Steve Carney contributed to this report.


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