|Sally Jessy Raphael|
|Born||February 25, 1935
Easton, Pennsylvania, U.S.
Raphael was born in Easton, Pennsylvania and graduated from Easton Area High School in the city. She was raised in San Juan, Puerto Rico where her father, Jesse Lowenthal, was in the rum exporting business and her mother, Dede Lowry (née Raphael), an artist, ran an art gallery. She also spent part of her teenage years in Scarsdale, New York, where one of her first media jobs was at the local AM radio station, WFAS. The station did a program by and for junior high school students and Raphael read the news. She attended Carnegie Mellon University in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, and the University of Puerto Rico in Puerto Rico.
She earned a BFA from Columbia University in New York City, although some sources say her degree was in journalism. She also told an interviewer for CBS Marketwatch.com in 2001 that she had a master's degree from the University of Puerto Rico. At one point, she thought about becoming an actress but ultimately decided to go into broadcasting.
Following her graduation from Columbia University, Raphael became a news correspondent, covering Central America for the Associated Press and United Press International, thanks in large part to her ability to speak both English and Spanish fluently. She also got considerable experience in the media in Puerto Rico, where she worked in both radio and television-- one of her jobs was doing a TV cooking show. It was while working in radio that she met the man who became her second husband, Karl Soderlund, who was the general manager of a radio station that hired her. After he got fired, the two left Puerto Rico to work in Miami. It was while Raphael was on the air as a radio announcer in Miami, Florida that she met and became friends with talk show host Larry King.
By her own admission, Raphael's broadcasting career was not an immediate success. She told numerous reporters over the years that she bounced around from station to station in both Puerto Rico and the United States, working as a disc jockey, news reporter, and the host of a show where she interviewed celebrities. It seemed none of her jobs lasted very long, often through no fault of her own: in radio, stations often changed owners, and when that happened, staff changes resulted. But no matter how many jobs she lost, she refused to give up, even though at one point, she had held 24 different jobs, and was fired from 18 of them. For a brief period of time, her financial situation was so dire that she was on food stamps. But fortunately, in the early 1980s, she would finally get the right opportunity when she was asked to do a call-in advice show on radio. In the late 1980s, she guest starred as herself in The Equalizer episode "Making of a Martyr".
Raphael's husband Karl Soderlund assumed the role of her manager, and was a partner in her two biggest successes. She hosted a radio call-in advice show distributed by NBC Talknet which ran from Monday November 2, 1981 to 1987, but is most famous for hosting the television talk show, The Sally Jessy Raphael Show (later shortened to simply Sally), which ran in first-run syndication from October 17, 1983 to 2002. "Talknet" was brand new when she came to the attention of producer Maurice Tunick. According to David Richards of the Washington Post, Tunick had auditioned a number of potential hosts, but hadn't yet found the right one. That changed when he gave Raphael a chance to try out. Tunick gave her a one hour trial run on NBC's Washington affiliate, WRC, on Sunday in August 1981. Before going on the air, she decided that rather than doing a political show, she would give advice and discuss subjects she knew a lot about, such as relationship problems. It turned out to be an excellent decision. Soon, her advice show was being heard on over 200 radio stations, and she developed a loyal group of fans.
One of those fans turned out to be talk show legend Phil Donahue who happened to hear her show one night and liked how she related to the audience. His encouragement led to a tryout on television, where producer Burt Dubrow gave her a chance to be a guest host on a talk show of his. She wasn't very polished, but people who had loved her radio show were very positive about her being on TV. Her non-threatening and common-sense manner appealed to Dubrow, who believed she would gain more confidence as she got some TV experience. By mid-October 1983, she was given her own show on KSDK-TV in St. Louis. The Sally Jessy Raphael Show was only a half-hour, but it was the beginning of her successful career as a talk show host.
Raphael became known to TV viewers for her oversized red-framed glasses, a trademark that began entirely by accident. In 1983, she began having trouble seeing the Teleprompter clearly, and she went to buy some reading glasses at a nearby store. All they had was a pair with red frames, and being in a hurry, she bought them. While her bosses disliked them, the audience seemed to think they looked good, so she kept wearing that style from then on. She also became known for the Kleenex tissues she handed out liberally to crying guests during the show. Like many TV talk hosts, she did emotional topics such as reuniting family members who hadn't seen each other in years, or helping a wife who was the victim of spousal abuse. When she was accused of being just another tabloid talk show host, she objected, saying to critics that her shows were not exploitative or sensational, and that she tried to solve real problems from real people. In 1989, Raphael won the Daytime Emmy Award for Outstanding Talk Show.
But during the 1990s, as competition in the talk show arena intensified, her show moved toward more sensationalistic topics, as did many of the other talk show hosts who were her competition, including Jerry Springer (who, at the time, was also distributed by Multimedia Entertainment) and Maury Povich. She continued to defend herself against accusations that she was doing the same trash TV as her competitors. Meanwhile, after considerable success, her ratings had begun to slip. Part of this was to be expected: there were now so many TV talk shows that the audience had become fragmented.
By 2000, both Raphael and Springer were in decline. As one media critic observed, Springer's ratings were the lowest they had been in 3 years, but Raphael's ratings were now the lowest they had been in 12 years. Prior to the ratings declines, Raphael was already having problems with her syndicator: she believed that USA Networks Inc. (formerly Universal Television Enterprises) was more interested in doing promotion for Springer and Povich, whose shows they also carried, rather than paying sufficient attention to her show. She celebrated the anniversary of her 3,500th episode in early 1998, but after that, as her ratings began to decrease and her dissatisfaction with her syndicator persisted, it seemed only a matter of time before her relationship with USA Networks would come to an end. By March 2002, it was announced that after an 18-year run, her show was being canceled. Ironically, in 2002 Raphael was named by Talkers magazine to both their 25 Greatest Radio Talk Show Hosts of all time (she was #5), and the 25 Greatest Television Talk Show Hosts of all time (she was #11). She was one of only three talkers to make both the radio and the TV lists.
As of 2005, she still hosted a daily radio show, Sally Jessy Raphael on Talknet (previously called Sally JR's Open House), on the Internet, and recently she began to transfer the format to local radio stations. At one time the show was heard on nearly 300 stations across the nation, including the top markets. She recently did a sample show for WLIS/WMRD, Middletown-Hartford, Connecticut, and recorded 9 hours of material for WHJJ, Providence, Rhode Island. After these trials, the show was picked up by WVIE, Baltimore, Maryland, as the parent station, and is being syndicated among other AM stations in New England, the Mid-Atlantic and the Midwest, in addition to at least one station in Arizona. The show is still accessible on the internet (although WVIE has since dropped the program), and began coverage on XM Satellite Radio's America's Talk channel on November 19, 2007. The name "Talknet" is a revival of the name of NBC Talknet, the now defunct radio network that carried her previous radio show from 1981 to 1987. July 4, 2008 was the last broadcast before a sudden vacation was announced. The show has not returned to the air since, but the website is still available.
Her first marriage, to a childhood friend named Andrew Vladimir when she was 18 yrs, ended in divorce 5 years later. She and Vladimir had two daughters, Allison and Andrea. Raphael then married Karl Soderlund; together they raised eight children -- her two daughters from her first marriage, two daughters from Soderlund's first marriage, and several children they adopted or fostered.
Raphael's life has had its share of tragedies. In a 1990 interview, she related how her father had become ill and unable to work, changing her life from one of relative comfort to one where the family was barely able to make ends meet. Compounding this, her mother was a victim of rape, and she later suffered a stroke. There was not enough money to pay the medical bills, and as Raphael told it, her mother "ended up as a charity patient." She said that both of her parents died too young. In January 1992, her adopted 19-year-old son Jason "J.J." Soderlund, was in a near-fatal car accident, when his car crashed into a tree in Putnam Valley, New York. He was unconscious for six days, and suffered serious injuries to his legs, ribs, and face.
Only a few weeks after her son's accident, her 33-year-old daughter Allison Vladimir (from her first marriage to Andrew Vladimir) died in her sleep on 2 February 1992. Allison's body was found in her mother's bed-and-breakfast inn in Bucks County, PA, and at first, there were tabloid rumors of a drug overdose. But the coroner's report said that was not accurate. According to the report her death was accidental, and caused by several factors: prescription medications she had been taking, and an enlarged heart brought about by obesity (she was 5'6" tall but weighed more than 200 lbs) and the fact that she was a smoker. For obvious reasons, Raphael was devastated, and went into seclusion, unable to do her show for several weeks. A year later, her son had not fully recovered from his injuries, and Raphael herself was still coming to terms with the loss of her daughter.