Dr. Ruth Westheimer, the sex therapist and singular radio talk show host who became an 80s pop culture phenomenon, chats with PEOPLE ahead of her latest milestone
“I never gave any thought to will I make it or not,” says Dr. Ruth Westheimer of turning 95 on Sunday.
“Right now, I'm here. Luckily for me, I have a very good sense of humor. And in the Jewish tradition it says that if you teach with humor, the students will remember what you talked about," she continues.
No one spoke about sex quite so memorably as Dr. Ruth, the sex therapist and one-time radio talk show host who became a pop culture phenomenon in the 80s. Nor has anyone had a life quite like her. An orphan at age nine, having lost both parents in the Holocaust, she became a trained sniper in the Israeli Army.
From there, she met and married Manfred Westheimer, with whom she had two children, and moved to New York City, where she turned her initial fifteen-minute public radio show, Ask Dr. Ruth, into show business gold.
Still going strong, Dr. Ruth chats with PEOPLE about life in her tenth decade.
PEOPLE: How does it feel to be turning 95? How's your body? How's your mind?
“My body is wonderful. And I'm lucky that I'm healthy. My daughter Miriam lives nearby. My son Joel is in Ottawa, but he comes very often, and I have four grandchildren. And the word that I have to use is that I'm grateful.”
PEOPLE: What has kept you so young at heart?
“Talking about sex from morning til night! That keeps you young. But even when you have a partner to engage in sex is even better. But if that doesn't work, then get a book of mine. Tell everybody at PEOPLE Magazine!”
PEOPLE: We're going to plug your book like you wouldn't believe!
“And tell them that The Art of Arousal [or, as Dr. Ruth says, "The Art of Arrrroussssal”] this beautiful art book by Abbeville, is the publisher, and it tells you how to masturbate with stories. How to masturbate, do you hear me, PEOPLE Magazine? But don't do it on television. It's a beautiful book. It's also for older people and for people who are alone.”
PEOPLE: How will you celebrate your birthday?
“My birthday is on June 4. But I decided that my birthday is going to be postponed because my granddaughter Leora is getting married on June 18 and I want to give all of the attention to that gorgeous granddaughter who is studying to be an attorney at NYU. I'll let you know when the actual birthday is sometime this fall.”
PEOPLE: What are you going to do on June 4?
“On my actual birthday, I'm just going to do whatever my granddaughter Leora, the one that's getting married, whatever she needs, because she's getting married on June 18.”
PEOPLE: What has surprised you most about your life?
“That I became famous. That I have a wonderful daughter, son-in-law, a wonderful son and daughter-in-law and four wonderful grandchildren. The one that's getting married, the other one is studying medicine in Canada. My grandson, the little one, is [at a] first-year university in Toronto and loves it. And the other one is already graduating and is working with computers. With such a difficult beginning like me, having been an orphan at the age of 10 years old — no parents, no brothers and sisters — all I feel is gratefulness. But I need to tell you about our new project.”
PEOPLE: Let’s do that at the end, Dr. Ruth, because I'm taking control of the interview!
“That's difficult for me!”
PEOPLE: Have your grandkids seen clips of you on television? What do they think?
“I don't talk to them about it. I never talked to my late husband, Fred, about sex on television, because he would tell you what he said on television once. He said 'The shoemaker's children don't have shoes.' He wants to imply that he didn't get enough sex. Not true.”
PEOPLE: Who was the sexiest man that you ever met?
“What's his name? With the mustache. Burt Reynolds.”
PEOPLE: What made him sexy?
“His mustache. And I have a picture [of us together] that I’m looking at right now that shows me touching his mustache. But I tell you something, my claim to fame was that I never asked them [my celebrity friends] any personal questions, but they told me personal stories, which I'm not going to repeat.”
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PEOPLE: What was it about his mustache….
“The mustache felt wonderful because I can see that I'm smiling [in the photo.] Thank God my brain is working. Now ask me about my new project.”
PEOPLE: Tell me about your new project.
“Okay. I'm doing a project with the Department of Aging of New York State, and the project is about Grand Parenthood. I want people to adopt, not legally adopting, but to adopt a child to give them support, either academic support or support in terms of social life. Something like adopting a grandmother. But not legally adopting. I'm not interested in that. I'm just interested that every child should have a significant adult in their lives.
“I won't tell you. However, he kissed me on my head and Hillary was there and Hillary smiled, and I had a great time chatting with him. I reminded him that many years ago in Arkansas I saw him. I saw this handsome, tall man. I said, ‘You should run for president. I will vote for you,’ and the rest is history as you know.
PEOPLE: So it's thanks to you, Dr. Ruth, he ran for president?
“Thanks to me and some other smart people.”
PEOPLE: Back to your upcoming birthday, any more thoughts on turning 95?
“I”m excited about my wonderful granddaughter's marriage. I love her fiancé. Her fiancé, he went to Fort Tryon Park, that's near where I live, and he went to the bench that I dedicated to my late husband, Manfred, and then at the bench he proposed marriage to my granddaughter Leora. There's a bench that I dedicated to my late husband's memory. He loved Fort Tryon Park, and he took Leora to that bench and proposed. Not only that, he went on his knees to propose. So I want to give all of the attention to their marriage in June, and my 95th birthday celebration is going to be postponed.”
PEOPLE: One last question, was Burt Reynolds really the sexiest man alive?
“At the time. I had such a good smile on my face when I saw him, so he must have told me some very interesting little story, which I'm not repeating for you!”
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