Gossip is just news running ahead of itself in a red satin dress, Liz Smith once said. But when it comes to breaking news of a death, perhaps it's best to be fashionably late -- as evidenced by the veteran gossip columnist's premature eulogy of her friend Nora Ephron, published on a women's news site on Tuesday while the Sleepless in Seattle writer-director was reportedly still alive, and before nearly anyone but her closest friends and family knew she was sick.
Smith's ambiguously worded tribute -- she spoke of Ephron in the past tense but never said for certain that she had died -- quickly caught the attention of curious fans and members of the press, making the rounds on social media before being briefly removed, then edited and republished, and as of Wednesday afternoon Eastern time, removed again.
I won't say, 'Rest in peace, Nora,' Smith wrote. I will just ask 'What the hell will we do without you?'
In an email to the New York Observer (sort of) clarifying the inconsistencies between her presumed eulogy and the fact that, at that time, Ephron was still alive, Smith admitted that she hadn't previously known Ephron was sick (which did not come across in the published piece.)
Nora Ephron is not [confirmed] dead, Smith wrote to the Observer early Tuesday evening. We have killed all pre released material & corrected. One can only say she is deathly ill in New York Hospital. I am broken-hearted over this but sorry if I misled anyone inadvertently. I did not even know Nora was ill.
According to the Washington Post, Ephron was diagnosed six years ago with the blood disorder myelodysplasia, which can sometimes lead to leukemia. But as Ephron never went public with her illness, most were stunned by reports of her imminent passing. For many, Smith's eulogy was the first indication that Ephron was not in good health.
Tragically, Smith was not incorrect that Ephron was gravely ill, and the beloved author, screenwriter, and director died on Tuesday evening.
A day later, Smith is now claiming she did in fact know that Ephron was ill, but that she did not know how serious it was. The original post about Ephron has been removed from Wowowow.com, and replaced by another tribute from Smith. I knew she'd been ill but never that it was fatal, Smith writes in the updated eulogy. I am as shocked as anyone else.
In an interview with Women's Wear Daily, Smith expressed a kind of regret about publishing Tuesday's piece.
I wish I hadn't broken this one, Smith told WWD. I was upset she was dying. Smith added that she expected to be taken to the woodshed over the timing of its publication.
Earlier Tuesday, in an apparently unrelated discussion, Smith told WWD in a phone interview that she had not broken a story in years. (She had a gossip column at the New York Post until 2009.)
Gossip writers can't make a living anymore unless they're willing to print anything, like the stuff that comes up on the Web, she told WWD. Nothing has time to develop.
An inquiry made to Wowowow.com was not immediately returned.