Smith, Liz: New York Popular Gossip Columnist Dies at 94

Liz Smith, the gossip journalist whose newspaper column from New York entertained and informed million of readers for more than three decades, has died. She was 94.

Smith’s column at one point was syndicated in about 75 papers around the world and read by as many as 50 million people each day. At the height of her success, she was earning $1 million a year.

Literary agent Joni Evans told the Associated Press that Smith died Sunday of natural causes in New York.

A native of Fort Worth, Texas, who arrived in Manhattan by train in 1949, Smith once famously defined gossip as “news running ahead of itself in a red satin dress.”

She began her self-titled gossip column at the New York Daily News on Feb. 16, 1976, and enjoyed immense popularity.

After writing for New York Newsday from 1991-1995, she moved to the New York Post, where she remained until the paper unceremoniously fired her in 2009 when she was 86.

“I was more shocked than anyone. I thought I was indispensable,” she told The Hollywood Reporter in April 2015. “Looking back, I just wasn’t what the powers that be wanted. And I don’t think it had anything to do with Rupert Murdoch himself.

“I went to see Murdoch after they fired me, and I asked for my job back. He was very sweet and complimentary and finally said, ‘Well, you know, it’s an editorial thing, Liz. I can’t interfere with the Post‘s editors.’ I burst out laughing. I said, ‘Of course you can!’ And then he started laughing, too. But then he said he was sorry and kissed me on the cheek, and that was that. But the whole thing hurt my feelings and my stature as a columnist.”

In 1979, Smith became a regular on the landmark WNBC-TV afternoon news program Live at Five and won a Daytime Emmy Award. “There was a newspaper strike, and the Daily News forced me to go on television,” she once said. “I had so much fun doing the show that I kept doing it for 15 years.”

Smith attributed her success to the ability to “get to people that nobody else could get to. I met lots of interesting people coming up, and they stayed friends with me when they made it big. And my friendship with Elizabeth Taylor and Richard Burton really helped make my career. It didn’t do them any harm, either.”

Smith’s work was witty and rarely vitriolic. “In fact, the last time I was in Hollywood,” she said in August 2015 to Interview magazine, “I saw Lindsay Lohan from across the room, and she screamed my name. She said, ‘You’re the only person who’s never written anything nasty about me.'”

Smith was born in Fort Worth on February 2, 1923. She married her college sweetheart, George Edward Beeman, in 1944, but they divorced three years later. “I married a guy I really cared about,” she said, “a strong, silent type, 6 foot 4. But he wanted to be a rancher in Texas, and I wanted to get out of there. … It was sad, but I was desperate to get to New York.”

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