Gregory White Smith
|Gregory White Smith|
October 4, 1951|
Ithaca, New York
|Died||April 10, 2014
Aiken, South Carolina
Harvard Law School
Harvard Graduate School of Education
Gregory White Smith (October 4, 1951 – April 10, 2014) was a Pulitzer Prize-winning American biographer of both Jackson Pollock and Vincent van Gogh. In addition to writing 18 books with Steven Naifeh, Smith was an accomplished musician, historic preservationist, art collector, philanthropist, attorney, and businessman who founded several companies including Best Lawyers® that spawned an entire industry of professional rankings.
His brain tumor, which was diagnosed in 1975, led to 13 brain surgeries as well as radiation and nuclear medicine treatments and experimental chemotherapeutic regimens. His search for cutting edge medical care was profiled on CBS’s “60 Minutes” and recounted in his book Making Miracles Happen.
Jackson Pollock: An American Saga was published in 1990. The Philadelphia Enquirer called the book “Brilliant and definitive … so absorbing in its narrative drive and so exhaustively detailed that it makes everything that came before seem like trial balloons." Van Gogh: The Life, which Michiko Kakutani of the New York Times called “magisterial,” was published in 2011 with a companion website hosting over 6,000 pages of notes. The book stirred global controversy by debunking the widely accepted theory that Van Gogh committed suicide and arguing instead that village bullies shot him.
“As a tale of ambition, hard-fought fleeting triumphs and dark despair,” said the San Francisco Gate, “it has the dramatic pull of a gripping nineteenth-century novel. … [The] biography enriches the eye. Its insight and vast information vault readers into the work of Van Gogh and the artists of his time. It deepens the experience of looking at art." “A tour de force,” said the Los Angeles Times, a “sweepingly authoritative, astonishingly textured book."
He died of a rare brain tumor, which he battled for four decades, in 2014 at the age of 62.
Smith was born in Ithaca, New York on October 4, 1951, and was raised in Columbus, Ohio, where he attended the Columbus Academy. "Walking to school beginning at an early age," Naifeh said, "he would think of a sentence. Then, talking out loud, as he did for the rest of his life, he would try different ways to articulate the same thought, clarifying the idea and giving the words more character and force. It was the beginning of a lifelong love of and gift for words." "Also at age eight, Smith began dictating short novels into a Dictaphone his father used in business, which his mother transcribed. 'They were only 25 or 30 pages long,' Smith said, 'and the work of a child. But I was so thrilled that my mother typed them. There was my name at the top of the first page, ‘By Gregory White Smith.’”
"As editor of his high school newspaper, he once wrote an editorial about the French experience in Vietnam and its lessons for the United States. When the headmaster burned all of the copies of the paper, Smith called on the headmaster to resign. 'Greg was already showing his fiercely combative spirit,' Naifeh said, 'the same spirit that would get him through a lifelong battle against a terrible disease and unending pain.'” 
He graduated from Colby College in 1973, spent a year studying music in Europe on a Watson Fellowship, and then enrolled at the Harvard Law School. He graduated from the Law School in 1977, and received a master’s degree in education, also from Harvard, in 1978.
Smith was a singer and choral conductor. He founded the Colby Eight in 1972 and served as Assistant Conductor of the Harvard Glee Club, where he helped prepare choruses for such conductors as Leonard Bernstein, Seiji Ozawa, and Mstislav Rostropovich, from 1974 to 1979.
Smith received honorary doctorates from the University of South Carolina Aiken in 1998, the Juilliard School in 2012, and Colby College in 2013.
In 1989, along with his partner Naifeh, he purchased the Joye Cottage in Aiken, South Carolina in 1989. Together, they restored the historic Whitney-Vanderbilt house, a creation of both Stanford White and Carrère and Hastings. The story of that renovation is told in their book, On a Street Called Easy, In a Cottage Called Joye, which the New York Times called “wry and gentle … house-and-garden renovations gone delectably awry.” They are leaving the house to the Juilliard School as a residence for artists in music, drama, and dance.
In 2009, with Sandra Field, Smith co-founded the Juilliard in Aiken Festival, a performing arts festival that brings dozens of artists to Aiken each year for performances and has provided educational outreach to more than 16,000 students in an area covering parts of Georgia and South Carolina. The year Smith died, the Festival culminated in an early-music performance of Bach’s St. Matthew Passion that was presented not only in Aiken but in Spivey Hall in Atlanta and Alice Tully Hall at Lincoln Center. James R. Oestreich wrote in the New York Times that the performance contained “flashes of brilliance, all right. But what made the event so deeply satisfying was mainly the consistent excellence of all its parts.”
In 1975, a few months after beginning Harvard Law School, Smith began experiencing unexplained skeletal pain. After six months of clinical investigation, he was diagnosed with a hemangiopericytoma, a tumor so rare it landed him on the cover of the New England Journal of Medicine. Uncertain that he could survive the disease – in 1987, he was given three months to live – Smith, together with Naifeh, spent the rest of his life finding doctors around the world who could perform operations or improvise treatments to keep him alive long enough for the next lifesaving treatment to emerge.
Smith’s survival was featured on a segment of CBS’s “60 Minutes” in 1997. He was asked by Morley Safer, “Everyone must ask the question when given what appears to be a death sentence, 'Why me?'” Smith answered, “I've been very, very lucky in my life. I had a great family – have a great family. I have Steve. I've been endowed with some talents. I've had a chance to write a book that I'm very proud of. I have great friends. And never once in all those things, I never once said, 'Why?' So how can I demand from the universe some sort of rationale for the bad that I've never demanded for the good?”
“It took enormous grit and determination to stage this heroic ongoing battle against his brain tumor,” Naifeh said to the Aiken Standard. “Yet, it never robbed him of his passion for life. Or his sweetness. He was so unassuming about his intellectual gifts, so guileless, that he had an extraordinary capacity to help people understand how special they were in their own ways.”
Smith worked as an associate attorney at the law firm of Morrison & Foerster and as an editor at the Free Press, where he published the Encyclopedia of Crime and Justice in 1983.
He was the author, all with Naifeh, of many books including five New York Times bestsellers.
Interview Magazine said of the book, “For once, with this intense, engrossing, and indeed brilliant work, we have a biography that justifies its length. Seldom have the history of an artist, the development of his imagination, and the fevers of his soul been more grandly yet intimately described.”
The book was adapted into an Academy Award-winning film by Ed Harris in 2000, Pollock (film). Harris said the biography was “the bible for the project and remained so until filming was completed.” The biography also served as an inspiration for John Updike’s Seek My Face. “It would be in vain,” Updike wrote, “to deny that a large number of details come from the admirable, exhaustive 'Jackson Pollock: An American Saga.'"
Smith also wrote Van Gogh: The Life, which was called “the definitive work for decades to come” by Leo Jansen of the Van Gogh Museum, in 2011.
Time Magazine wrote: "Steven Naifeh and Gregory White Smith, whose 1989 biography of Jackson Pollock won the Pulitzer Prize, have written this generation's definitive portrait of the great Dutch post-Impressionist. … Their most important achievement is to produce a reckoning with van Gogh's occasional 'madness' that doesn't lose sight of the lucidity and intelligence – the profound sanity – of his art." The Boston Globe wrote: "Now, at last, with 'Van Gogh: The Life' by Steven Naifeh and Gregory White Smith, we have what could very well be the definitive biography … And how pleased we should be that Naifeh and Smith have rendered so exquisitely and respectfully van Gogh's short, intense, and wholly interesting life."
In addition to English, Van Gogh: The Life has been published in Dutch, German, French, Spanish, and Portuguese and is being translated into Italian, Polish, Russian, Chinese, Japanese, and Korean.
Smith also wrote several how-to books to fund the writing of Pollock, including (with Michael Morgenstern), the best-seller How to Make Love to a Woman, which sold several million copies in 29 languages. He wrote several true crime books, including the bestseller The Mormon Murders in 1988 and Final Justice in 1993. The latter was nominated for the Edgar Allan Poe Award for Fact Crime.
Smith’s one book of humor, detailing the renovation of Joye Cottage, was well-received: “Page after belly-ticking page,” wrote the Washington Post. “Numerous adventures bordering on slapstick. … A delightful read.”
Smith also wrote two television series, one for PBS on the history of the Supreme Court with Archibald Cox and one for NBC on human behavior with Phil Donahue.
Together with Naifeh, Smith founded the legal publishing company Best Lawyers in 1981 which published The Best Lawyers in America, a peer-review list, in 1983. That list went on to become Best Lawyers®, a global network linking lawyers and clients. In 2013, Best Lawyers ranked 74,965 lawyers representing 18,034 law firms in 75 countries. In 2009, the company partnered with U.S. News to produce rankings of law firms and in 2014 it gave out 61,138 rankings to 11,681 law firms in 120 practice areas.
The Best Lawyers list is widely respected in the legal profession. Kevin Maroney, Associate General Counsel of United Healthcare, has said, “I always review Best Lawyers and rely on its recommendations.” Bernd-Peter Bier, Senior Vice President of the Tax Division at Bayer AG, has said, “I have used Best Lawyers to locate lawyers in an area of law that I do not have retained counsel. I find it to be a great resource.” Kevin R. Hackett, General Manager and Chief Executive Officer of Rockefeller Group International, has said, “Best Lawyers is the gold standard in selecting a lawyer.”
In 1997, Smith told his story, as well as those of other patients conquering critical illnesses, in the book Making Miracles Happen, which Phil Donahue called “an inspiring gift to all of us who remain one cell away from the pathologies that would kill us … Greg Smith’s relentless and successful effort to save his own life is a medical story for the twenty-first century.” With Naifeh, he also founded Best Doctors, a company dedicated to helping others with undiagnosed or seemingly untreatable medical illnesses find the best medicine anywhere in the world. Although they sold the company in 2000, it continues to serve more than 30 million members worldwide.
Illness and death
His brain tumor, which was diagnosed in 1975, led to 13 brain surgeries as well as radiation and nuclear medicine treatments and experimental chemotherapeutic regimens. His search for cutting edge medical care was profiled on CBS’s "60 Minutes" and recounted in his book Making Miracles Happen.
- Moving Up in Style. 1980.
- Gene Davis. 1982.
- How to Make Love to a Woman. (With Michael Morgenstern). 1982.
- The Best Lawyers in America. 1983-2014.
- Why Can’t Men Open Up?. 1984.
- The Mormon Murders. 1988.
- Jackson Pollock: An American Saga. 1989. OCLC 18907042.
- Final Justice. 1993.
- A Stranger in the Family. 1996.
- The Best Doctors in America. 1992-1997.
- On a Street Called Easy, In a Cottage Called Joye. 1996.
- Making Miracles Happen. 1997.
- Van Gogh: The Life. 2011.
- Smith, Gregory White (1989). Jackson Pollock: An American Saga. Clarkson Potter. ISBN 0517560844.
- Smith, Gregory White (2011). Van Gogh: The Life. United States: Random House. ISBN 0375507485.
- Smith, Gregory White. "Best Lawyers in America". The Best Lawyers in America. Woodward/White, Inc. Retrieved 13 May 2014.
- "Baltic Review". Retrieved 11 April 2014.
- Smith, Gregory White (1997). Making Miracles Happen. Little Brown & Co. ISBN 0316597880.
- Smith, Gregory White (1989). Jackson Pollock: An American Saga. Back Cover: Clarkston Potter. ISBN 978-0517560846.
- Kakutani, Michiko. "The Persona and the Palette". The New York Times. The New York Times. Retrieved 13 May 2014.
- Smith, Gregory White. "Van Gogh: The Life". Woodward/White, Inc. Retrieved 13 May 2014.
- Smith, Gregory White (2011). Van Gogh: The Life. Random House. pp. 860–879. ISBN 0375507485.
- D'Arcy, David. "Van Gogh: The Life by Naifeh and Smith". San Francisco Gate. San Francisco Gate. Retrieved 13 May 2014.
- Muchnic, Suzanne. "Book Review: 'Van Gogh: The Life'". The Los Angeles Times. The Los Angeles Times. Retrieved 13 May 2014.
- Turner, Stephanie. "Juilliard in Aiken co-founder, author Smith dies at 62". The Aiken Standard. Retrieved 13 May 2014.
- Smith, Gregory White (1996). On a Street Called Easy, In a Cottage Called Joye. Little Brown & Co. p. Back Cover. ISBN 0316597058.
- "Juilliard in Aiken Festival Website".
- Turner, Stephanie. "Juilliard in Aiken returns with 'Passion'". The Aiken Standard. Retrieved 15 May 2014.
- Oestreich, James R. "In a Show of Early-Music Vigor, a Lofty Commitment Is Confirmed". The New York Times. Retrieved 15 May 2014.
- McManus, Tracey. "Pulitzer Prize winner Gregory White Smith dead at 62". The Augusta Chronicle. Retrieved 15 May 2014.
- Safer, Morley. "The Best Doctors in America". 60 Minutes. Paul & Holly Fine.
- Turner, Stephanie. "Juilliard in Aiken co-founder, author Smith dies at 62". The Aiken Standard. Retrieved 15 May 2014.
- Naifeh, Steven. "Obituary". Baltic Review. Retrieved 15 May 2014.
- Staff, Writer. "SC Pulitzer Prize-winning Pollock biographer dies". The State. Retrieved 15 May 2014.
- "National Book Awards - 1990". National Book Foundation. Retrieved 15 May 2014.
- Cockburn, Alexander. "Review". Interview Magazine. Retrieved 15 May 2014.
- Harris, Ed. "On "Pollock"". The New York Times. Retrieved 15 May 2014.
- Charles, Ron. "A splattering of art history". The Christian Science Monitor. Retrieved 15 May 2014.
- Jansen, Leo. "Review". Random House. Retrieved 15 May 2014.
- Lacayo, Richard. "The Stranger". Time Magazine. Retrieved 15 May 2014.
- Silman, Roberta. "Review". Profile Books. Retrieved 15 May 2014.
- Smith, Gregory White. "Editions". Woodward/White, Inc. Retrieved 15 May 2014.
- Naifeh, Steven. "Obituary". Woodward/White, Inc. Retrieved 15 May 2014.
- Staff, Writer. "Review". The Washington Post. Retrieved 14 May 2014.
- Smith, Gregory White. "The Founders". Woodward/White, Inc. Retrieved 15 May 2014.
- Smith, Gregory White. "History". Woodward/White, Inc. Retrieved 15 May 2014.
- Hayes, Ruby. "U.S. News - Best Lawyers releases 2014 "Best Law Firms" list". Woodward/White, Inc. Retrieved 15 May 2014.
- Maroney, Kevin. "Client Testimonials". Woodward/White, Inc. Retrieved 15 May 2014.
- Hackett, Kevin. "Client Testimonials". Woodward/White, Inc. Retrieved 15 May 2014.
- Donahue, Phil. "Review". Making Miracles Happen. Little Brown & Co. Retrieved 15 May 2014.
- Bui, Hoa-Tran (13 April 2014). "Colby College graduate Gregory White Smith, Pulitzer-winning biographer of artists, dies at 62". Bangor Daily News.
- "Pulitzer-winning Pollock biographer Smith dies". The Huffington Post. AP. 10 April 2014.
- "Gregory White Smith, Pulitzer Prize-winning author of Jackson Pollock and Van Gogh: The Life dies at 62". Retrieved 11 April 2014.
- Smith, Gregory White (1997). Making Miracles Happen. Little Brown & Co. ISBN 0316597880.