Lost in the Stars

updated 11/27/1995 AT 01:00 AM EST

originally published 11/27/1995 AT 01:00 AM EST

FOR MILLIONS OF AMERICANS THE age of Aquarius arrived with Linda Goodman. Armed with heavenly charts and a down-to-earth writing style, the popular astrologer brought the ancient beliefs that the stars could forecast the future out of the realm of exotica and onto the bestseller lists. Her 1968 book Sun Signs sold more than 5 million copies and spawned the top-selling sequels Love Signs and Star Signs. Celebrities including Steve McQueen, Princess Grace and Sonny and Cher sought her counsel. "She got astrology on the map," says friend Rob Dorgan. Adds Goodman's daughter Jill, 38: "She paved the way to New Age thinking."

But while Goodman, who died Oct. 21 at age 70 of complications from diabetes, helped others find their answers in the stars, she seemed woefully unable to come to terms with the mysteries of her own life. The 1973 suicide of her 21-year-old daughter Sally haunted Goodman for decades. One of five children (three of whom died in infancy) born to Goodman and the first of her two husbands, writer William Snyder, Sally was an aspiring actress when she overdosed on Demerol in her New York City apartment. Linda's second husband, Sam Goodman, a radio announcer, identified his stepdaughter and had her body cremated.

But despite her husband's testimony, a previous suicide attempt by Sally and a rambling note at the scene, Goodman refused to believe her daughter was dead. A week after the cremation, Goodman, who had moved to the remote mining town of Cripple Creek, Colo., in 1970 to write, flew to New York to search for her "missing" child. She argued that autopsy photos showed the dead woman's skin—brown from days of decaying in a warm apartment—was darker than Sally's and that Sally's astrological charts indicated she was alive. While there, Goodman spent 10 days sleeping outside St. Patrick's Cathedral in Manhattan to call attention to what she believed was an official cover-up of her daughter's fate. "She couldn't let it go," says friend Bob Slates. "She contacted the FBI and the CIA. At one point she told me the government was behind the whole thing."

When Goodman's fortunes increased—the paperback rights for her second book, Love Signs, were sold for a then-record $2.25 million in 1978—she spent more than $400,000 on private detectives to keep up the search. Investigator Anthony Pellicano (who later would work for Michael Jackson) concluded that Sally had committed suicide shortly after talking to her mother on the phone, but Goodman rejected his findings. "She was a wonderful woman," Pellicano says, "but she obviously had serious guilt problems about the death of her daughter."

Long before Sally's suicide, Goodman had been obsessively single-minded in her pursuits. Born Mary Alice Kemery in Parkersburg, W.Va., she began her career as a newspaper writer in Parkersburg where she also married first husband Snyder. Later she took a job as a radio announcer in Pittsburgh, where she adopted the name Linda and met second husband Goodman. (They married in 1955.)

Although her family says Goodman always had a very spiritual side, her interest in astrology didn't blossom until she moved to New York City in 1963. There she sometimes spent 20 hours a day in a nightgown doing charts and poring over a coffee-table book on astrology as she wrote Sun Signs. "She was very determined," says Jill, an artist and one of two children (son Michael, 35, is an aspiring writer) from the Goodman marriage (Sam died in 1983).

Goodman's intensity and generosity drew friends to her: She frequently thanked acquaintances for favors with gifts of cars or expensive jewelry, a habit that led her into bankruptcy in the late 1980s. But they were often driven away by her demands and her temper—a reaction Goodman never seemed to understand. Years after lover Robert Brewer, a 26-year-old marine biologist, left her in 1972, Goodman continued to set a place for him at her dinner table in expectation of his return.

In time, not only did Goodman stop believing in death (she eventually claimed that Marilyn Monroe, Howard Hughes and Elvis Presley were all still alive but in hiding), but "age was an illusion to her," says son Michael.

When diagnosed with diabetes in the mid-1980s, Goodman, who distrusted traditional medicine, sometimes refused treatment and later had to have first a toe, then part of her leg amputated. Afterward, she became a virtual recluse in her Cripple Creek home. "She wanted to suffer alone," says longtime friend Terry Moore, the actress and widow of Hughes.

Even then, Goodman continued to look to the stars. Linda Goodman's Love Signs Relationship Report, a personalized analysis of couples' astrological compatibility, which she finished before her death, will soon hit the Internet. "Linda really did believe in love," says Dorgan, "and she lived her life for it."

CYNTHIA SANZ
VICKIE BANE in Cripple Creek and DANELLE MORTON and LYNDON STAMBLER in Los Angeles

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