Frank, feisty, funny, with a voice as brash as her advice, Eppie Lederer—better known as Ann Landers, advice-giver to the world—had a ready answer for people who wondered why strangers turned to her for help with their most intimate problems.

“Well, they don’t consider me a stranger,” she once explained, with sacks of letters to back her up on the matter. “I’m the lady next door, their best friend, the mother they couldn’t communicate with before, but they can now. Most of all, I’m a good listener.”

For over 40 years, Ann Landers was the world’s best read and most widely syndicated newspaper column, a fixture in 1,200 newspapers, offering a daily snapshot of a society in transition to an audience of some 90 million readers. Since 1987, her home base was the Chicago Tribune.

She died in her East Lake Shore Drive home Saturday afternoon, June 22. She was 83, and the cause was multiple myeloma.

Lederer is survived by a daughter, Margo Howard of Cambridge, Mass., three grandchildren and four great-grandchildren, and her sister and competitor in the advice column business, Pauline Esther “PoPo” Phillips, also known as Abigail Van Buren, author of the Dear Abby column.

“She was like America’s mother, and I’m not alone in my sadness,” said Howard, who pens her own column, “Dear Prudence,” for the online magazine Slate. “She was about fixing the world. She really wanted to make things better. She really cared about the people.”

A World Almanac poll once named Ann Landers as the most influential woman in the United States. Millions of her newspaper readers, wanting more, bought copies of her six books, from “Since You Ask Me” in 1962 to “Wake Up And Smell The Coffee” in 1996.

“Her column had a finger on the popular pulse,” noted David Grossvogel, a Cornell University professor who did a computer analysis of 10,000 of her columns for his 1986 book, “Dear Ann Landers: Our Intimate and Changing Dialogue with America’s Best-Loved Confidante.”

Using word searches, Grossvogel tracked topic changes, starting with “sex,” a matter that was virtually non-existent in Landers’ columns when she started in 1955. Later, he found it came to dominate her letters, along with frank advice about masturbation, penile implants and homosexuality, topics editors would have axed if she’d mentioned them 30 years before.

Over the decades, Grossvogel also reported, Landers readers became much less concerned with matters of appearance and acceptance—how they looked, how popular they were—and began to run head-on into such tougher problems as smoking, drinking, drugs and sexual diseases.

There was also much said by Ann Landers about the changing structure of the American family. On her watch, it shifted from the “Father Knows Best” paternalism of the 1950s to an often-chaotic linkage of people of differing ages, many of them writing to her for direction.

Over four decades, her readers shared everything from infidelity to incest, domestic violence, obnoxious children, panic attacks, animals stuck in toilets and adult bed-wetting.

She once did a rare book plug, for “Fighting Cancer,” published by the Bloch Cancer Foundation of Kansas City, Mo. In the first three days after her column appeared, some 876,000 people tried to reach the foundation’s 800 number, swamping the phone lines.

A woman of tiny physique, Eppie Lederer added four inches or so with high heels, plus bouffing her hair, a style she never changed. With much panache, she tooled around Chicago in a navy blue limousine with license plates AL 1955, to mark her column-birth. She often dined at the International Club in the Drake Hotel where a brass nameplate marked her regular table.

“I see myself as a listener,” she once told a friend, when asked for the secret of her success. “Just getting people to write problems down is part way to solving them,” she said. “They can think about the problem, then they cope with it in a more objective way.”

Over the years, she herself admitted, “I’ve changed my mind about a few things. Early on, I knew nothing about homosexuality. Later, I became sympathetic because I understood they were born ‘that way.’ I believe I helped them in their struggle for acceptance.”

Along with facing up to people she called “the gun nuts,” she backed a woman’s right to have an abortion, stood against the death penalty, discouraged adopted children from tracking down biological parents who did not wish to be found, and suggested that suicide, as a way out for incurably ill patients, was not an option to be universally condemned.

In recent years, “with people living longer,” her mail brought “more letters from senior citizens, writing about illness, loneliness, estrangement from their kids,” she said.

One piece of advice she frequently gave was simple—“get a pet.”