Liz Smith, the syndicated gossip columnist whose mixture of banter, barbs, and bon mots about the glitterati helped her climb the A-list as high as many of the celebrities she covered, died Sunday at the age of 94.
Smith died of natural causes, according to her literary agent Joni Evans.
For more than a quarter-century, Smith’s column – titled simply ‘Liz Smith’ – was one of the most widely read in the world.
The column’s success was due in part to Smith’s own celebrity status, giving her an insider’s access rather than relying largely on tipsters, press releases and publicists.
With a big smile and her sweet southern manner, the Texas native endeared herself to many celebrities and scored major tabloid scoops: Donald and Ivana Trump’s divorce, Woody Allen and Mia Farrow’s impending parenthood.
One item proved embarrassingly premature: In 2012, she released a column online mourning the death of her friend Nora Ephron.
But Ephron, who was indeed gravely ill, did not die until a few hours later and an impending tragedy that Ephron had tried to keep secret became known to the world.
Smith held a lighthearted opinion of her own legacy.
‘We mustn’t take ourselves too seriously in this world of gossip,’ she told The Associated Press in 1987. ‘When you look at it realistically, what I do is pretty insignificant.
‘Still, I’m having a lot of fun.’
‘I was fortunate enough to work with the amazing Liz Smith,’ Al Roker tweeted. He said that during his time at WNBC, she was nothing short of ‘fabulous.’
Smith began her career at CBS Radio, NBC TV and Candid Camera. In the 1950s Smith began writing a gossip column for the Hearst newspapers. Smith also wrote for Cosmopolitan Magazine and Sports Illustrated before her columns at the Daily News and Newsday
‘Liz Smith was the definition of a lady,’ actor James Woods tweeted. ‘She dished, but always found a way to make it entertaining and fun.’
After graduating with a degree in journalism from the University of Texas, Smith recalled buying a one-way ticket to New York in 1949 with a dream of being the next Walter Winchell.
But unlike Winchell and his imitators, Smith succeeded with kindness and an aversion to cheap shots. Whether reporting on entertainers, politicians or power brokers, the ‘Dame of Dish’ never bothered with unfounded rumors, sexual preferences or who’s-sleeping-with-whom.
‘When she escorts us into the private lives of popular culture’s gods and monsters, it’s with a spirit of wonder, not meanness,’ wrote Jane and Michael Stern in reviewing Smith’s 2000 autobiography, ‘Natural Blonde,’ for the New York Times Book Review.
But it may have been the question of her own sexuality which kept her from discussing that of the stars.
A subject in the gay press for many years, Smith acknowledged in her 2000 book that she had relationships with both men and women, and confirmed a long-rumored, long-term relationship with archaeologist Iris Love.
Evans said Smith had a series of small strokes earlier this year but nothing serious that slowed her down. She was still having breakfast, lunch and dinner outings with friends, family and associates, Evans said. She called her ‘a light.’
Born Mary Elizabeth Smith in Fort Worth, Texas, in 1923, she was the daughter of devout Baptist mother and an eccentric father. Smith said her dad received his divine inspiration more from the race track than the pulpit.