Friday, January 03, 2003 5:18 p.m. ET
By Gina Keating
LOS ANGELES, Calif.
Sydney Omarr, the world's most widely read astrologer and a prognosticator to real life Hollywood stars, has died at age 76 from complications of pneumonia in Southern California, his ex-wife said on Friday.
Omarr died at St John's Health Center in Santa Monica, California on Thursday, surrounded by close friends and assistants who for years helped him put out his syndicated horoscope column. Omarr was hospitalized on Dec. 23 suffering from double pneumonia, his ex-wife, Jeraldine Saunders, said.
He had suffered since 1971 from multiple sclerosis, which left him blind and paralyzed, but had entertained as recently as two weeks before his hospitalization, Saunders said.
His hugely successful column, which ran seven days a week in 125 U.S. and foreign newspapers, will now be written by Saunders, said Walter Mahoney, vice president of domestic syndication for the Tribune Media Co. in Chicago.
Saunders, a former model and cruise director whose career was the basis for the popular TV series "Love Boat," also wrote a book called "Love Signs" that combines astrology and related arts, and has lectured extensively on the subject.
She was married briefly to Omarr in 1966 and remained one of his closest friends. She said the column would keep Omarr's name and continue to use his methods.
"I do everything just the way he does it because ... his column was so much more accurate than any others," Saunders told Reuters. "He would tie in numerology and palmistry and the kabbala."
Omarr told friends that he wanted to be remembered as the man who defended astrology, according to a rare interview he granted to the Los Angeles Times last month. As an astrologer, he had a devoted following that included former California Gov. Goodwin Knight, Mae West, Jennifer Jones, Angie Dickinson, Jayne Mansfield and a onetime actor named Ronald Reagan, for whom Omarr predicted great things.
In a column due to run Jan. 14, Omarr wrote that he wanted his epitaph to be "He was handsome and erudite. He enjoyed boxing and his star rose when he fought the good fight for astrology," Saunders said.
He told the Times he didn't understand how the positions of celestial bodies affected human affairs, just that they did.
"No one knows what gravity is either but we don't fear falling off the world," he said in the Dec. 13 interview. In addition to his column, Omarr wrote 13 books annually -- one on each of the 12 signs of the zodiac and one on the astrological year. His books have sold more than 50 million copies.
The man who would become the world's best known astrologer was born Sidney Kimmelman on Aug. 5, 1926, under the sign of Leo, son of a Philadelphia grocer and a housewife. He became fascinated with stargazing and magic in grade school, and by 15, began analyzing celebrity horoscopes for magazines and selling personalized horoscopes for $1 each.
The same year, he changed his name to test a numerological theory that the new moniker would add pizzazz to his life, he told the L.A. Times. He found his new surname in the film "Shanghai Gesture" starring Victor Mature as a character named Dr. Omar.
In 1943, he enlisted in a Army and was shipped to Okinawa as the U.S. military's first and only astrologer, predicting the outcomes of sporting events on a weekly radio show for the Armed Forces Network.
After the Army, he went to work for United Press and CBS radio as a news reporter, later giving up journalism to become a full-time columnist and astrology consultant.
His proudest moment, he told the Times, was a 1951 debate he had with astronomer Roy Marshall over the legitimacy of astrology. In the 1970s, his columns, books and celebrity studded parties had catapulted Omarr to fame, landing him on the couches of several talk show hosts, including Merv Griffin, Johnny Carson and Mike Douglas, as the resident stargazer.
He became paralyzed below the neck about 20 years ago and blind 15 years after that, but dictated his column and recorded daily horoscopes for his pay-per-use telephone horoscope service after planetary charts were read to him. "He never faltered for a word and he added drama to it," Saunders said.
She added that he was a typical Leo: very generous and always delighted
to have an adoring crowd around him.
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