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Liz Smith, legendary celebrity gossip columnist, dies at 94

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Liz Smith, legendary celebrity gossip columnist who lamented loss of glamour, dies at 94

Columnist's work was read by many fans interested in the lives of A-list celebs.

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Liz Smith, legendary celebrity gossip columnist who lamented loss of glamour, dies at 94

Staff and wire reports Published 6:18 p.m. ET Nov. 12, 2017 | Updated 5:36 a.m. ET Nov. 13, 2017
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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.

Joni Evans, Smith’s literary agent, told The Associated Press she died of natural causes.

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, among them Donald and Ivana Trump’s divorce, and Woody Allen and Mia Farrow’s impending parenthood.

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.”

FacebookTwitterGoogle+LinkedIn Liz Smith, 'Dame of Dish' (1923-2017)  Fullscreen

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Longtime gossip columnist Liz Smith died Sunday at age 94. Click through for photos of her many celebrity encounters. Here, she leaves the Celebration of Life Memorial ceremony for Walter Cronkite on Sept. 9, 2009, at Avery Fisher Hall in New York. Stephen Chernin, AP Fullscreen Liz Smith and Donald Trump at a function celebrating his book 'The Art of the Deal' on Dec. 12, 1987, at Trump Towers Atrium in New York. Ron Galella, WireImage Fullscreen Liz Smith and designer Calvin Klein arrive at the 2003 opening night of musical 'The Boy From Oz,' starring Hugh Jackman, at the Imperial Theatre on Oct. 16, 2003. Evan Agostini, Getty Images Fullscreen Liz Smith, left, and Lauren Bacall, right, pose with Phyllis Newman during the Actors Fund of America's There's No Business Like Show Business gala on May 23, 2005, in New York. Paul Hawthorne, Getty Images Fullscreen Liz Smith, right, makes an appearance on 'Murphy Brown' with Candice Bergen in 1995. Byron J. Cohen, CBS Fullscreen Liz Smith, left, and Martha Stewart attend Stewart's Center for Living at Mount Sinai Medical Center gala on Nov. 10, 2009, in New York. Will Ragozzino, Getty Images Fullscreen HBO Documentary Films president Sheila Nevins, left, and Liz Smith attend the 18th annual Gotham Independent Film Awards on Dec. 2, 2008, in New York. Andrew H. Walker, Getty Images Fullscreen Liz Smith, Donald Trump and his wife Ivana and their daughter Ivanka attend 1001 Nights at the Big Apple Circus on Nov. 16, 1987, in New York. Tom Gates, Getty Images Fullscreen Bette Midler, left, and Liz Smith attend the New York Restoration Project's 13th annual Spring Picnic at Riverside Park on May 29, 2014, in New York. Wendy Ploger, Invision/AP Fullscreen Liza Minnelli, right, performs for Liz Smith at the Design for Our City event honoring Smith for her dedication to making the city a better place to live on Jan. 27, 2004, at Sotheby's Auction House in New York. Matthew Peyton, Getty Images Fullscreen Liz Smith, from left, Michele Lee and Valerie Harper at the Drama League's Salute to Liz Smith at the Pierre Hotel in New York on Feb. 25, 2002. Scott Gries, Getty Images Fullscreen Lesley Stahl, left, Morley Safer and Liz Smith remember the life and career of '60 Minutes' correspondent Mike Wallace on SiriusXM's 'The wowOwow Radio Show' at SiriusXM Studio on April 11, 2012, in New York. Cindy Ord, Getty Images Fullscreen Liz Smith speaks at the premiere of 'Smash His Camera' at the Museum of Modern Art on June 1, 2010, in New York. Bryan Bedder, Getty Images Fullscreen Liz Smith joined the chorus line at a Broadway dinner and show to benefit the Literacy Volunteers of New York City, Inc., a private non-profit organization teaching reading and writing, on June 13, 1983. Nancy Kaye, AP Fullscreen Liz Smith appears onstage at 'Everybody, Rise! A Celebration of Elaine Stritch' on Nov. 17, 2014, in New York. Charles Sykes, Invision/AP Fullscreen Liz Smith and actor Sam Elliott attend the after-party for the premiere of 'The Golden Compass' at the Rainbow Room on Dec. 2, 2007, in New York. Andrew H. Walker, Getty Images Fullscreen Senator Hillary Rodham Clinton, D-N.Y., speaks with Liz Smith after the memorial service for former Gov. Ann Richards in Austin on Sept. 18, 2006. At left is former Dallas Mayor Ron Kirk and at right is former San Antonio Mayor Henry Cisneros. Pool photo by Deborah Cannon, AP Fullscreen Tony Bennett and Liz Smith at the surprise 80th birthday party for musician Bobby Short on Sept. 12, 2004, at the Rainbow Room in New York. Frank Micelotta, Getty Images Fullscreen Liz Smith, from left, Beverly Sills, Carol Burnett and Barbara Walters attend the Lincoln Center 'Thank You, Beverly!' gala on April 14, 2003, in New York. Lawrence Lucier, Getty Images Fullscreen Liz Smith speaks with Henry Kissinger at the Henry A. Grunwald Awards Luncheon on Sept. 19, 2007, in New York. Andrew H. Walker, Getty Images Fullscreen

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    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.

    But it may have been the question of her own sexuality which kept her from discussing that of the stars. She was divorced twice, from her college sweetheart Ed Beeman and travel agent Freddie Lister, but acknowledged in her 2000 autobiography Natural Blonde that she had relationships with both men and women, and confirmed a long-term relationship with archaeologist Iris Love.

    Smith laughed it off in an interview at the time with USA TODAY, declining to define herself as bisexual or gay. "I don't say what (I am) because I have never known, and I have switched around a lot," she said. "I have left my options open and made a few jokes and 'came out' in this book as a heterosexual. Let's just leave it at that."

    She wrote for nine New York newspapers and dozens of magazines, but it was a stint writing for Cosmopolitan that led to her break. While establishing herself as an authority on Elizabeth Taylor and Richard Burton, Smith attracted the attention of the New York Daily News.

    She started her own column at the tabloid in 1976. A gossip star was born.

    FacebookTwitterGoogle+LinkedIn Passages 2017: Those we’ve lost through the year  Fullscreen

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    Best-selling mystery author Sue Grafton has died on Dec. 28, 2017. She was 77. Grafton was a contemporary American author well known for her alphabet mystery series featuring investigator Kinsey Millhone. The series began with A is for Alibi in 1982 and continued through Y is for Yesterday, released in August 2017. Putnam Books Fullscreen Cast members Heather Menzies-Urich (Louisa von Trapp) and Duane Chase (Kurt von Trapp) attend "The Sound of Music" 40th Anniversary Special Edition DVD Cast Reunion at The Tavern on the Green Nov. 10, 2005 in New York City. Actress Heather Menzies-Urich, best known for playing Louisa Von Trapp in The Sound of Music, died on Dec. 24, 2017 in Frankford, Ontario, Canada. Menzies-Urich had several film and TV roles. She was the widow of actor Robert Urich, who died of cancer in 2002. Menzies-Urich died of brain cancer. She was 68. 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AP Fullscreen Musician Mel Tillis performs onstage during 2011 Stagecoach: California's Country Music Festival at the Empire Polo Club on April 30, 2011, in Indio, Calif. Tillis, the longtime country star who wrote hits for Kenny Rogers, Ricky Skaggs and many others, and overcame a stutter to sing on dozens of his own singles, has died. A spokesman for Tillis, Don Murry Grubbs, said Tillis died early Sunday, Nov. 19, 2017, at Munroe Regional Medical Center in Ocala, Fla. He was 85. Frazer Harrison, Getty Images Fullscreen Malcolm Young of AC/DC performs at the Bank Atlantic Center on Dec. 20, 2008, in Sunrise Florida. AC/DC guitarist and co-founder Malcolm Young has died aged 64, the band announced on Nov. 18, 2017. mpi04/MediaPunch/IPX Fullscreen Liz Smith leaves the Celebration of Life Memorial ceremony for Walter Cronkite on Sept. 9, 2009, at Avery Fisher Hall in New York. Prominent gossip columnist Smith, known as the 'Dame of Dish,' died of natural causes on Nov. 12, 2017. 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Chenery, who bred and raced 1973 Triple Crown winner Secretariat as well as realizing her disabled father’s dream to win the Kentucky Derby in 1972 with Riva Ridge, died Sept. 16, 2017, at her Boulder, Colo., home following complications from a stroke, her children announced Sunday through Leonard Lusky, her longtime friend and business partner. She was 95. Jack Kanthal, AP Fullscreen In this Feb. 4, 2008, file photo, actor Harry Dean Stanton arrives at a celebration for actress Marion Cotillard in West Hollywood, Calif. Legendary character actor Stanton has died at age 91. Stanton's agent John S. Kelly says the actor died Sept. 15, 2017, at Cedars-Sinai Medical Center in Los Angeles. Kelly said Stanton died of natural causes, but gave no further details. CHRIS PIZZELLO/AP Fullscreen Troy Gentry, of the country band Montgomery Gentry, was killed in a New Jersey helicopter crash Sept 8, 2017 just before he was set to perform. He was 50. Here he performs at the 2nd Annual Academy of Country Music USO Concert at Nellis Air Force Base April 2, 2011 in Las Vegas. Ethan Miller, Getty Images Fullscreen Musician Walter Becker of Steely Dan performs onstage during Day 1 of the 2015 Coachella Valley Music & Arts Festival at the Empire Polo Club on April 10, 2015, in Indio, Calif. Becker, the co-founder of the band 'Steely Dan', passed away on Sept. 3, 2017, at the age of 67. Jeff Kravitz, FilmMagic Fullscreen Actor Richard Anderson arrives at the TCM Classic Film Festival opening night premiere of the 40th anniversary restoration of Cabaret" at Grauman's Chinese Theatre on April 12, 2012, in Hollywood, Calif. Richard Anderson, the tall, handsome actor best known for co-starring simultaneously in television's The Six Million Dollar Man and The Bionic Woman in the 1970s, has died at age 91. Anderson died of natural causes on Aug. 31, 2017, family spokesman Jonathan Taylor said. Alberto E. 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Moran, the former child star who played Joanie Cunningham in the sitcoms "Happy Days" and "Joanie Loves Chachi," died April 22, 2017, at 56. Police in Harrison County, Ind., said that she was found unresponsive after authorities received a 911 call. Matt Sayles, AP Fullscreen USA-1 pilot Steven Holcomb reacts after heat 4 of men's four-man bobsleigh during the Sochi 2014 Olympic Winter Games at Sanki Sliding Center. Holcomb was found dead in his sleep May 6, 2017, at the Olympic Training Center in Lake Placid, N.Y. Kevin Jairaj, USA TODAY Sports Fullscreen In this May 31, 2015, photo, Bill Paxton arrives at the Critics' Choice Television Awards at the Beverly Hilton hotel in Beverly Hills, Calif. Paxton's death certificate states the actor died from a stroke days after surgery to replace a heart valve and repair damage to his aorta. The aorta is the main artery that carries blood from the heart to the rest of the body. He died on Feb. 25, 11 days after the surgery. Richard Shotwell, Invision/AP Fullscreen Joseph Wapner, star of television show, The People's Court, is shown Oct. 22, 1986. Wapner died Feb. 26, 2017, from respiratory failure. He was 97. AP Fullscreen Legendary singer and composer Chuck Berry, one of the pioneers of rock-and-roll, performs at a concert in Montevideo on April 15, 2013. Berry died on March 18, 2017. He was 90. Pablo Porciuncula, AFP/Getty Images Fullscreen Defendant Aaron Hernandez listens during his double murder trial in Suffolk Superior Court in Boston. Massachusetts prison officials said Hernandez hanged himself in his cell and pronounced dead at a hospital early on April 19, 2017. He was 28. Pool photo by Elise Amendola Fullscreen In this April 1, 2014, photo, the recipient of the 1992 Nobel Prize in Literature Derek Walcott attends a news conference in Mexico City. 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Faith Ninivaggi, The Boston Herald via AP Fullscreen In this Sept. 13, 2016, photo, Jonathan Demme, director of the concert film 'Justin Timberlake + The Tennessee Kids,' appears at the premiere at the Toronto International Film Festival in Toronto. Demme died, April 26, 2017, of complications from esophageal cancer in New York. He was 73. Chris Pizzello, Invision/AP Fullscreen A Oct. 28, 2011 photo of Sinn Fein's Martin McGuinness as he waves while waiting to hear the results in the first count in the presidential election at Dublin Castle, Ireland. McGuinness, an IRA and Sinn Fein leader who became a minister of peacetime Northern Ireland, died on March 21, 2017. Peter Morrison, AP Fullscreen Jimmy 'Superfly' Snuka appears at the Spooky Empire Mayhem Horror Convention at the DoubleTree Hotel on May 31, 2014, in Orlando, Fla. Snuka, a professional wrestler and actor died on Jan. 15, 2017. He was 73. Jeff Daly, Invision/AP Fullscreen Al Jarreau is shown in 2007 holding his Grammy for best traditional R&B performance at the 49th annual Grammy Awards in Los Angeles. On Feb. 12, 2017, the singer died at the age of 76. European Pressphoto Agency Fullscreen British actor John Hurt attends the press conference for 'Only Lovers Left Alive' at the 66th annual Cannes Film Festival in Cannes, France, on May 25, 2013. Best known for his role in 'The Elephant Man,' Hurt died at the age of 77 on Jan. 27, 2017. Sebastien Nogier, European Pressphoto Agency Fullscreen A May 28, 2009, photo shows actress Mary Tyler Moore speaking at the at the National Press Club in downtown Washington, D.C., USA. Moore died on Jan 25, 2017. Denny Henry, European Pressphoto Agency Fullscreen American navy commander and astronaut for the upcoming Apollo 10 mission Eugene Cernan is pictured in his space suit, in1969. Cernan died on Jan. 16, 2017. He was 82. AP Fullscreen Actor Don Rickles of the film 'Mr. Warmth, The Don Rickles Project' poses in the portrait studio during AFI FEST 2007 presented by Audi held at ArcLight Cinemas on Nov. 9, 2007 in Hollywood, Calif. Rickles died on April 6, 2017. He was 90. Mark Mainz, Getty Images for AFI Fullscreen Richard Hatch is shown in a publicity photo from the original T.V. series 'Battlestar Galactica.' Hatch died on Feb. 7, 2017. He was 71. SCI FI CHANNEL Fullscreen 'The Exorcist' author, William Peter Blatty, stands on what are popularly known as The Exorcist Steps in the Georgetown area of Washington, D.C. in this Sept. 3, 2013 photo. Blatty died on Jan 12, 2017. He was 89. H. Darr Beiser, USA TODAY Fullscreen Robert Osborne, columnist and critic for the Hollywood Reporter, signs copies of '75 Years of the Oscar: The Official History of the Academy Awards' on Nov. 4, 2003 at The Grove in Los Angeles, Calif. Osborne died on March 6, 2017. He was 84. Doug Benc, Getty Images Fullscreen Joni Sledge of Sister Sledge appears on stage at the amfAR's 23rd Cinema Against AIDS Gala at Hotel du Cap-Eden-Roc on May 19, 2016 in Cap d'Antibes, France. Sledge died on March 10, 2017. She was 60. Andreas Rentz, Getty Images Fullscreen Charlie Murphy is shown in a Nov. 2012 photo while attending at 'Eddie Murphy: One Night Only,' a celebration of Eddie's career in Beverly Hills. Murphy died on April 12, 2017. He was 57. Chris Pizzello, Invision/AP Fullscreen

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      By 2000, she would lament the loss of glamour among modern celebrities. "There isn't any glamour except as they get themselves all tarted up for awards shows," Smith told USA TODAY. "Making a fashion statement has been substituted for real mystery and glamour. It's totally synthetic. ... I knew Tallulah Bankhead, Ginger Rogers, Lana Turner and Bette (Davis) and Joan (Crawford). A big star like Loretta Young had real glamour and real class, and she had mystery! This woman could have a child by Clark Gable and wouldn't confess it.

      "What everybody needs today is a big sense of humor about themselves. I don't think these stars now have enough background or sense of history and philosophy to do that."

      As news spread about her death, the stars she covered for so many years began to react.

      Al Roker tweeted about having worked with her. He wrote, "I was fortunate enough to work with the amazing Liz Smith. During my time at WNBC she was nothing short (of) fabulous." He added that "a piece (of) New York" has passed away with her.

      I was fortunate enough to work with the amazing Liz Smith. During my time at WNBC she was nothing short fabulous. Liz passed away at the age of 94 and with her, a piece New York.

      — Al Roker (@alroker) November 12, 2017

      Rob Lowe tweeted: "Loved Liz Smith. Smart and funny. Gossip from the High Road."

      Loved Liz Smith. Smart and funny. Gossip from the High Road.

      — Rob Lowe (@RobLowe) November 12, 2017

      Singer and actress Betty Buckley also tweeted about the newspaper legend. "Deeply sad reading this. Liz Smith was such a force & great, great lady."

      Oh, no. I️ loved Liz Smith so much. Deeply sad reading this. Liz Smith was such a force & great, great lady. ❤️ [t.co]

      — Betty Buckley (@BettyBuckley) November 12, 2017

      James Woods paid homage to Smith as well, writing in a tweet that "She dished, but always found a way to make it entertaining and fun."

      Liz Smith was the definition of a lady. She dished, but always found a way to make it entertaining and fun. #RIPLiz[t.co]

      — James Woods (@RealJamesWoods) November 12, 2017

      Contributing: The Associated Press, Lorena Blas, Kim Willis and Stephen Schaefer

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