Famed gossip columnist and UT alum Liz Smith dies at 94

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Photo Credit: Melanie Westfall | Daily Texan Staff

Liz Smith, famed columnist and UT alumna, once defined gossip as “news running ahead of itself in a red satin dress.” After a lifetime of documenting New York’s glitziest red satin dresses, Smith died Sunday at 94 from natural causes.

Her death was confirmed by her literary agent, Joni Evans, according to The New York Times. Like Gossip Girl come to life, Smith chronicled the lives of Manhattan’s rich and famous for over three decades.

Before she went on to become “The Grand Dame of Dish,” Smith drafted the words to her first column on the University of Texas campus, in the office of the Daily Texan.

“I am saddened to learn of her passing, but tremendously proud to call her a Moody graduate and to honor her life and achievements,” said Jay Bernhardt, dean of the Moody College of Communication, in an email.

Smith’s front-page column on campus gossip, called “Forty Acres,” ran in the late 1940s. In a 1999 interview with Texas Monthly, Smith said she was
given a lot of freedom to write the column, which often featured less-than-savory jokes.

After graduating with a degree in journalism from UT in 1949, Smith went on to work at several publications, including The New York Post, Cosmopolitan and Sports Illustrated. She also developed a talkshow with the Fox Broadcasting Company and won an Emmy for her daily segments on WNBC’s Live at Five newscast.

Amid daily updates of the lives of New York’s elite, Smith published the occasional breaking news story. Famously, she was the first to report on Donald and Ivana Trump’s divorce for the New York Daily News in 1990.

“I still remember Trump saying he would buy The Daily News just so he could fire me,” Smith said in a 2014 interview with The New York Times.

At a peak point in her career, her column was published by roughly 60 national newspapers and read by between 30 and 50 million people each day, according to Interview Magazine.

“Smith was known for providing an insider account of the entertainment world,” said Kathleen Mabley, spokesperson at the Moody college. “She proved unmatched in her ability to gain access to the subjects of her writings.”

Two years ago, Smith told Interview Magazine her method of finding stories, a style based on establishing personal relationships with celebrities, is ending. After more than 30 years of gossip journalism, Smith expressed worry the industry was hanging up the red dress for a cheaper frock.

“It’s finished,” Smith said in the interview. “My kind of journalism is over, done with. Because you don’t believe in it.”