Liz Smith, the grande dame of New York gossip columnists who chronicled the lives of celebrities for Newsday and other publications, died of natural causes Sunday in Manhattan, her literary agent said. She was 94.
Smith, who penned her must-read column for Newsday from 1991 to 2005, also wrote for the New York Post and the Daily News, where she started her simply titled column, “Liz Smith,” in 1976.
Smith, who was eventually syndicated nationwide and became a celebrity herself, gave readers an inside view of the trials and tribulations of Hollywood starlets and the city’s elite, and earned a reported salary of $1 million annually.
Her scoop on Donald Trump’s divorce from Ivana Trump amid a cheating scandal made front-page news in 1990. But with the influx of online gossip sites and declining newspaper revenue, she was fired from the New York Post in 2009.
She continued writing — though without the center-stage venue — recently authoring columns on the sexual assault allegations against Harvey Weinstein, on the website New York Social Diary.
“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.”
Mary Elizabeth Smith was born in Fort Worth, Texas, in 1923. After her 1949 graduation from the University of Texas, where she studied journalism, she moved to New York with $50 and no ticket home.
In a 2015 Hollywood Reporter interview, she spoke of her humble beginnings, growing up in a small Texas town and how her fascination with stars led to her career.
“I was this goofy, star-struck kid, so in love with Fred Astaire and Ginger Rogers that I couldn’t see straight. So I’d go down to the Tivoli Theater for a dime on Saturdays and watch them singing and dancing all day. But I didn’t have the talent to pursue performing myself, so I decided to be a writer instead,” she said.
During her career, she worked for nine New York newspapers and dozens of magazines, including Sports Illustrated, Cosmopolitan and Variety. She also had an 11-year stint doing celebrity commentary on WNBC’s “Live at Five,” winning an Emmy in 1985.
She became friends with many of those she wrote about and, in a 1991 interview with The New York Times, addressed criticism that she was too chummy with her subjects.
“I don’t have to be pure, and I’m not. I mean, I am not a reporter operating on life-and-death matters, state secrets, the rise and fall of governments, and I don’t believe you can do this kind of job without access,” she said.
In 2000, she published a memoir, “Natural Blonde,” in which she acknowledged having romantic relationships with both men and women.
Smith also was an avid fundraiser for groups such as Literacy Volunteers, which teaches adults to read and write, and the Women’s Action Alliance, which promotes full equality for women.
Smith was married and divorced twice and had no children.