John Simon, whose biting, sometimes personal New York Magazine theater reviews drew devoted readers and withering criticism of their own, died yesterday at a hospital in Valhalla, New York. He was 94.
Simon’s death was announced on the Facebook page of his wife, Patricia Hoag Simon.
“My husband John Simon died last evening at Westchester Medical Center,” Hoag Simon wrote in part. “We were having lunch at the local dinner theatre when he was stricken. He was 94 years old and had an extraordinary life.” ”
Simon was New York Magazine‘s theater critic from 1969 to 2005, with his eloquently caustic reviews drawing admirers while provoking anger and charges of racism, homophobia, anti-Semitism and sexism from both readers and many of those he critiqued.
After leaving the magazine, Simon wrote theater reviews for Bloomberg News until 2010, and wrote a column for Broadway.com from 2006-2008. Over the years, his arts writing was published in Esquire, The New York Times Book Review, National Review and many others.
Simon famously, or infamously, mocked Barbra Streisand’s nose, disparaged Diana Rigg’s build and said on Charlie Rose that New York Times critic Ben Brantley had an “affection” for “the homosexual play” because Brantley was gay. He compared Liza Minnelli to a dog, and once told Time Out New York, “I don’t like ugly women. I don’t like ugly women in parts that call for beauty.” In 1980, an ad in Variety signed by 300 people said his reviews were racist.
And in one of the most notorious of Broadway legends – confirmed by Simon – actress Sylvia Miles dumped a plate of food on his head at the 1973 New York Film Festival (Simon had written that Miles was a “party girl and gate crasher.”
But Simon’s wit and devotion to theater was appreciated by many, as evidenced by his remarkable longevity at New York Magazine. Actress Betty Buckley wrote on Facebook today, “I loved John with all my heart and have abiding gratitude for his support of my work through all of the these years and his friendship. I will miss him so very much.”
And while his words often drew scorn, they were also honored: Among the awards he won were the 1968 George Polk Award for Film Criticism and the 1970 George Jean Nathan Award for Dramatic Criticism.
On Facebook, wife Hoag Simon, who survives him, ended her post, “Go see a play or read a great book or poem or watch some tennis in his honor – he loved all those things.”