Exclusive: Dr. Ruth on sex talk, life as an immigrant and being 'Omi'
The famed 'sexpert' has written 45 books, hosted numerous TV and radio shows and even starred in her own sitcom. But at home, she just wants to be a grandma.
Ruth Westheimer's been called a lot of things in her life. Pioneer. Force of nature. The female Freud. Scientist. Psychologist. Therapist. Sexpert. Bestselling author. Pint-sized powerhouse. Non-radical feminist. Media darling. Pop culture icon. And of course, the nickname that made her famous: Dr. Ruth.
But if you ask her which title she prefers above all others, she'll simply say, "Omi."
Indeed, the 91-year-old is "Omi" to four grandchildren, ranging in age from 17 to 28, and she'll sing their praises at every opportunity. In an exclusive interview with From The Grapevine, Westheimer, a German immigrant who fled Nazi occupation, said that becoming a grandmother is one of her proudest accomplishments.
Dr. Ruth attended a showing of the documentary 'Ask Dr Ruth' with her grandchildren during the 2019 Tribeca Film Festival on April 27, 2019, in New York City. (Photo: Roy Rochlin/Getty Images for Tribeca Film Festival)
"When I look at (my grandchildren), having been an orphan of the Holocaust, I know that Hitler and the Nazis are dead, and my grandchildren are thriving," she told us.
Westheimer has never shied away from taboo topics; it's those topics, in fact, that made her famous. As a radio host in the 1980s, she was both lauded and criticized for dishing out frank and unabashed advice about sex, intimacy and relationships. The show catapulted her to a career that's branded her one of the most famous sex therapists in the world.
In the 2019 documentary "Ask Dr. Ruth" that's now streaming on Hulu, Westheimer revealed a few facts about herself that, despite her candid and blunt personality, many people didn't know. For example:
Ruth isn't her real first name.
Westheimer was born Karola Ruth Siegel in Frankfurt, Germany. She goes by her middle name now, because she thought "Karola" sounded too German.
She's lived in five countries.
After leaving Germany at age 10, Westheimer lived in a children's home in Switzerland. When she turned 18, she moved to Israel, where she met her first husband. The two moved to Paris, France, where she earned her bachelor's degree in psychology. After getting a divorce, she emigrated to the United States.
She speaks four languages.
That's German, Hebrew, French and English.
She's lived in the same New York apartment for 55 years.
It's a small, modest three-bedroom in Washington Heights, a neighborhood in Manhattan. She moved there after she left France, and she's never wanted to leave.
She has five doctorate degrees.
One is from Columbia University, where she took night classes to earn an Ed.D. in family and sex counseling in 1970. After she rose to fame, three institutions – Trinity College, Hebrew Union College seminary, Lehman College of the City University of New York, and Ben-Gurion University in Israel – awarded her honorary doctorates. In the latter university, she now has a scholarship fund named after her.
Renowned sex therapist Dr. Ruth Westheimer (left) and Doug Seserman, Chief Executive Officer of the American Associates of Ben-Gurion University of the Negev, announce Westheimer's scholarship. (Photo: Ben-Gurion University of the Negev)
She's written 45 books.
And one of them is "Sex for Dummies." The original edition, published in 1995, has been revised four times. Most recently, she published a children's book, "Crocodile, You’re Beautiful! Embracing Our Strengths and Ourselves," in August 2019.
There's an Off Broadway play about her life.
The play "Becoming Dr. Ruth" opened in 2013, with actress Debra Jo Rupp playing the role of Dr. Ruth. The play chronicled her life from fleeing Germany to coming of age in the Israeli countryside to her struggles as a single mother.
She doesn't give sex advice to her kids – or grandkids.
But she did leave her books around the house in case they had questions.
She's a military veteran.
When Westheimer moved to Israel, she joined a military branch where trained as a sniper, but didn't have to use the training, which she considers a blessing.
She was married three times.
The third one, to Fred Westheimer, lasted 36 years before he died in 1997.
She used to think she was too short to find love.
At 4-foot-7, Dr. Ruth was quite insecure about her stature in her younger years “Nobody is going to want me because I’m short and ugly," she wrote in her diary in the 1940s. Now, world leaders and movie stars lean in or crouch down to hear her speak, knowing she'd say something wise and witty.
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