Gossip columnist Liz Smith has died at the age of 94 of natural causes, according to her literary agent Joni Evans.
Smith’s self-titled column began in 1976 in the New York Daily News, and was soon syndicated to scores of newspapers, reaching as many as 50 million readers daily. She later wrote for New York Newsday, then finished her career at the New York Post at age 86. She continued writing on her own web site and for others, but never again was the force she was in her heyday.
In a wistful New York Times story this summer, she admitted, “I am in search of Liz Smith. After a lifetime of fun and excitement and money and feeling important and being in the thick of it, I am just shocked every day that I’m not the same person. I think that happens to all old people. They’re searching for a glimmer of what they call their real self. They’re boring, mostly.”
Her style was not the intimidating jugular attack of columnists who expose intimacies or misdeeds in the private lives of public figures, thriving on Schadenfreude and sometimes damaging reputations. Nor, for the sake of a titillating item, did she seize upon ugly rumors or tasteless embarrassments.
On the contrary, she offered a kinder, gentler view of movie stars and moguls, politicians and society figures. And gossip was hardly the only ingredient of her columns, which were sprinkled with notes on books or films, bits of political commentary and opinions about actors, authors and other notables.
Smith came out as bisexual in her 2000 memoir Natural Blonde, although activist and author Michelangelo Signorile had outed her years before, accusing her and the closeted friends she protected of being “murderers” during the AIDS crisis.
Signorile made note of her death on Facebook, writing:
“The legendary celebrity & gossip columnist Liz Smith has died at the age of 94. For those who go way back with me you know I wrote angry columns giving her hell in the late ‘80s, early ‘90s for closeting so many, defending homophobes & for being closeted herself during the most terrible years of the AIDS plague. But she was tough, eventually rose to it, came out as bisexual, did good things. Glad to have seen all that and see her leading a full life and still writing, working, practically up to her death. RIP Liz.”