Alone at the End

updated 01/13/2003 AT 01:00 AM EST

originally published 01/13/2003 AT 01:00 AM EST

Every day Dr. Laura Schlessinger reaches millions with her blunt views on morals and the virtues of loving families. But there was one person with whom she wasn't communicating: her own mother. The controversial radio show host had not seen or spoken with Yolanda Schlessinger, 77, in nearly two decades. That fractured relationship took a tragic turn when Yolanda was found dead—possibly murdered—in her Beverly Hills condo on Dec. 16. "I sad to learn that she died as she chose to live—alone and isolated," Dr. Laura, 55, said in a statement. "My mother shut all her family out of her life.... May God rest her soul."

No one noticed that Yolanda had not been heard from in weeks. Piles of uncollected mail finally prompted neighbors to summon police, who discovered her corpse—dead, authorities say, for several weeks and maybe months—as well as the body of her beloved parrot Sweetie Pie. Police are investigating the case as a possible homicide, though they will not say why. "No one really socialized with her," says Edna Neidorf, 84, who lived in the same luxurious condominium complex. "I had no idea about her life until she died in that horrible way."

Known as Lundy, the former Yolanda Ceccovini met Monroe Schlessinger, then a lieutenant and later an engineer, in her native Italy during World War II. They married in 1946 and divorced 31 years later. Life for the couple and their daughters Laura and Cindy Harris, now a family therapist, was apparently less than idyllic. "I was not fortunate to grow up in a loving, close family," Laura said after her mother's death, in one of her few public comments about her upbringing.

Still, mother and daughter were on speaking terms when Laura began her rise from California marriage and family counselor to radio star. Now one of the nation's top-rated talk show hosts with 12 million listeners, she tried her hand at syndicated TV in 2000. But the Dr. Laura show lasted less than a year, dragged down in part by protests from gay rights groups who objected to her comments about homosexuality (she called it a "biological error").

According to one account, Laura's estrangement from her mother began in the mid-'80s. Working as an assistant in Laura's office, Lundy refused to take a typing class. "Finally, Laura said, 'If you don't learn to type, I can't pay you,' " recalls Rhoda Marcovitch, a therapist and family friend who was there that day. "Lundy said, 'If you can't pay me, I have no further use for you.' " And that was it. Lundy never even met Deryk, Laura's 17-year-old son with second husband Lew Bishop, a retired professor of biology at USC. In recent years Laura claims to have lost track of Lundy altogether.

Yet Shelley Herman, a television writer who worked with Laura in the '80s, says Laura "could have found her mother if she wanted to. Why did she have to die alone?" She remembers Lundy as a cheerful assistant who was inexplicably cut off by her daughter. "It's interesting that Laura is always bad-mouthing her mother," says Herman, "but Lundy never said a word about her to the press."

Whatever issues kept them apart will now, sadly, remain unresolved. In her last years Lundy liked to dress in tasteful St. John outfits and occasionally drive her Cadillac to local bridge clubs. According to someone who spent time with her recently, she also listened to her daughter's radio show. "It just breaks my heart to think of her so alone," says Marcovitch. "It's everyone's nightmare to die without your loved ones."

Alex Tresniowski
Maureen Harrington and Vickie Bane in Los Angeles

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