Talk-show host, psychologist, and author
Born Phillip C. McGraw, September 1, 1950, in Vinita, OK; son of Joe (an oilrig equipment supplier turned psychologist) and Jerry McGraw; married first wife (divorced); married Robin, c. 1976; children: Jay, Jordan. Education: Attended University of Tulsa; Midwestern State University, B.S. (psychology), 1975; University of North Texas, M.S. (psychology), 1976; University of North Texas, Ph.D. (psychology), 1979.
Addresses: Home—Beverly Hills, CA. Office—5482 Wilshire Blvd., No. 1902, Los Angeles, CA 90036.
Worked in private psychology practice with father, 1979-89; co-founded Courtroom Sciences Inc., 1989; regular guest on The Oprah Winfrey Show, 1998-2002; host of The Dr. Phil Show, 2002—.
Dr. Phil—aka Phillip McGraw—burst onto the talk-show circuit in the late 1990s as a regular guest on The Oprah Winfrey Show. He immediately captured a fan base with his blunt-fire style of therapy and folksy Texas twang. McGraw proved so popular that in 2002, he launched his own program, The Dr. Phil Show, which earned the highest ratings for a new talk show since Winfrey started hers in 1986. Part showman, part psychologist, McGraw draws six million daily viewers to his program, where he urges people to "get real" about their lives. His self-help books are also popular, topping the New York Times' best-seller list.
McGraw was born September 1, 1950, in Vinita, Oklahoma, to Joe and Jerry McGraw. He and his three sisters spent most of their childhoods in rural Oklahoma and Texas, where their father worked as an oilrig equipment supplier. McGraw's father taught him early on the importance of doing whatever it takes to make your dreams come true. "[Our] dad said, 'Successful people will do what unsuccessful people won't,'" McGraw's sister, Deana, recalled to Marc Peyser of Newsweek. What Joe McGraw did was quit his job in the booming oil business and uproot his family so he could pursue a doctorate in psychology. The family was so poor that McGraw, his parents, and younger sisters had to move in with his older, married sister.
McGraw took an early interest in football and it was through this sport that he first became interested in psychology. Speaking to Newsweek's Peyser, he recalled a time in junior high when his team lost to an unlikely bunch of ragamuffins from the Salvation Army. McGraw said his team felt invincible, decked out in their black jerseys and matching helmets. The Salvation Army team showed up to play in rolled-up jeans and loafers. "They beat us like they were clapping for a barn dance," McGraw recalled. "At that point I really got interested in why some people, with all the advantages in the world, don't do well, and those with no advantages can be absolute champions."
As a six-foot-four-inch linebacker, McGraw earned a football scholarship to the University of Tulsa, but got injured and quit. He transferred to Midwestern State University in Wichita Falls, Texas, earning a bachelor's degree in psychology in 1975. From there, he headed to the University of North Texas to earn a master's and a doctorate in psychology with the aim of joining his father's private practice. Over the course of this time, McGraw married twice. He married straight out of high school and soon divorced. Around 1976, he married his current wife, Robin.
McGraw spent ten years working side-by-side with his father, then decided he did not have the patience for therapy. According to his book Self Matters, McGraw finally broke down and told his wife: "I hate my career. I hate where we are living. I hate what I am doing.... I have one shot at this, one shot, and I'm choking, I'm blowing it. I'm now almost forty years old. I've wasted ten years of my life and I can't get them back no matter what I do.... I'm tired of not waking up excited in the morning. I'm tired of not being proud of what I do or who I am."
Just like his father before him, McGraw quit his job and uprooted his wife and two sons to pursue other opportunities. McGraw drew upon his expertise in the field of human behavior to co-found Courtroom Sciences Inc. in 1989 with neighbor and attorney Gary Dobbs. The Irving, Texas-based company helps defendants with court strategy and jury selection. It was through this business that McGraw met Winfrey in the late 1990s when some West Texas cattle ranchers sued her for defamation after she broadcast a show on mad-cow disease. With the help of McGraw, Winfrey won her case. McGraw's straight talk so impressed Winfrey that she invited him to appear weekly on her show, beginning in 1998.
In 2002, McGraw left Winfrey's show to produce his own daily self-help show, which has proved enormously popular. The format is simple. Each show typically features a couple of troubled guests. McGraw introduces each one to the audience through a short segment taped from the guest's home, where the guest asks for help. The guest then appears on the show to speak with McGraw. He is quick to identify the problem and provide his guest with a solution, which generally involves trying to alter the person's way of thinking. The show has covered such issues as money, obesity, spoiled children, and disgruntled spouses. Since starting his own show, McGraw moved his family from Texas to Beverly Hills, California, where he bought a home for a reported $7.5 million. He also sold his stake in Courtroom Sciences.
McGraw has also written several books, most of which top the best-seller lists. One of his most popular was The Ultimate Weight Solution: The Seven Keys to Weight Loss Freedom, which garnered a reported $10 million advance. The topic is close to McGraw's heart. "I've had obesity obliterate my family—it took my father early, and I've got two nephews over 500 pounds," he told Time's Jeffrey Ressner. "I feel a sense of urgency to shake people up about that."
McGraw himself has struggled with weight issues. He said he keeps the pounds off through strenuous workouts and near-daily tennis matches. McGraw believes success in weight loss involves healing your feelings. "If you're overweight, you're using food for other than nutritional purposes," he told Good Housekeeping's Lily Bosch. "You're not feeding your body, you're feeding your need."
McGraw has his detractors. Some psychologists think his "tell-it-like-it-is" style is too harsh. Some marketing experts question his staying power. "I'm not sure [he'll be] around in five or ten years," marketing professor Peter Sealey told BusinessWeek. "I have a sense he knows that and is milking it at every step." However, McGraw's straightforward brand of psychology has been popular in the United States. Six million people tune in daily and his website gets 14 million page visits a month.
Life Strategies: Doing What Works, Doing What Matters, Hyperion, 2000.
Relationship Rescue: A Seven-Step Strategy for Reconnecting with Your Partner, Hyperion, 2001.
Self Matters: Creating Your Life from the Inside Out, Free Press, 2003.
The Ultimate Weight Solution: The Seven Keys to Weight Loss Freedom, Free Press, 2003.
Family First: Your Step-by-Step Plan for Creating a Phenomenal Family, Free Press, 2004.
McGraw, Phillip C., Self Matters: Creating Your Life from the Inside Out, Simon & Schuster, 2001.
BusinessWeek, June 21, 2004, p. 108.
Good Housekeeping, November 2003, p. 146; March 2004, p. 118.
Newsweek, September 2 2002, p. 50.
Texas Monthly, September 2003, p. 120.
Time, September 13, 2004, p. 8.
"About Dr. Phil," DrPhil.com, http://www.drphil.com/about/about_landing.jhtml (October 30, 2004).