Nikki Finke, sharp-tongued Hollywood columnist, dies at 68

Nikki Finke, a veteran reporter who became one of Hollywood’s top journalists as founder of the entertainment trade website Deadline, and whose sharp-tongued tenacity made her the most feared columnist in show business, died Oct. 9 in Boca Raton, Fla. She was 68.

Her death was confirmed by Deadline, which said she had “a prolonged illness” but did not cite a specific cause.

A famously reclusive blogger, Ms. Finke began writing LA Weekly’s “Deadline Hollywood” column in 2002 and made it essential reading for gossip and trade news. Four years later, she launched Deadline Hollywood Daily as a website.

Blogging at Deadline.com, Ms. Finke made a pugnacious media empire of scoops and gossip, renowned for her “live-snarking” award shows and story updates that blared “TOLDJA!” when one of her earlier exclusives proved accurate.

Ms. Finke’s sharp-elbow style earned her plenty of enemies in Hollywood. But the Long Island native’s regular drumbeat of exclusives proved her considerable influence with executives, agents and publicists. In 2010, Forbes listed her among “the world’s most powerful women.”

Ms. Finke was unapologetic, declining to soften her approach for the most glamorous stars or the most powerful studio executives. “I mean, they play rough,” she told the New York Times in 2015. “I have to play rough, too.”

She did it all largely from the confines of her apartment in west Los Angeles, not schmoozing at red-carpet premieres or cocktail parties. But from her reclusive remove, she could ruthlessly skewer executives whose decision-making she disapproved of. Using an expletive, she once called Jeff Zucker, then-president of NBC Universal, “one of the most [obsequious] incompetents to run an entertainment company.”

“I can’t help it!” she told the New Yorker in 2009. “It’s like meanness pours out of my fingers!”

In 2009, Deadline Hollywood was purchased by Jay Penske, whose company, Penske Media Corp., would later also acquire Variety and the Hollywood Reporter. Ms. Finke often quarreled with Penske, particularly after his purchase of the Deadline rivals. She left the site in 2013 after months of public acrimony, but remained under contract as a consultant. “He tried to buy my silence,” Ms. Finke wrote at the time. “No sale.”

“At her best, Nikki Finke embodied the spirit of journalism, and was never afraid to tell the hard truths with an incisive style and an enigmatic spark. She was brash and true,” Penske said in a statement Sunday. “It was never easy with Nikki, but she will always remain one of the most memorable people in my life.”

After her departure, Ms. Finke played with various projects but never returned to entertainment journalism. Her deal with Penske reportedly prohibited her to report on Hollywood for 10 years, though she at one time threatened to go solo again with NikkiFinke.com. Instead, she debuted HollywoodDementia.com, with fictional showbiz tales instead of real ones.

Ms. Finke grew up in Sands Point, N.Y., on the North Shore of Long Island. Her father founded a lamp company in New Jersey, according to a New York Times report. Survivors include a sister.

After graduating from Wellesley College, Ms. Finke married Jeffrey Greenberg and launched a career in journalism. The marriage ended in divorce, and she went on to work as a reporter for the Associated Press, Newsweek, the Los Angeles Times, the New York Post and the New York Observer. She also inspired a 2011 HBO pilot that starred Diane Keaton as a hermetlike reporter named Tilda Watski.

“Trust me, I never set out for [Deadline] or me to be as controversial as we became,” she wrote in a 2016 article marking the publication’s 10th anniversary. “Instead, I was following the advice of my mentor, the legendary editor Peter Kaplan, who told me repeatedly: 1. You’re best when angry; 2. Write what you really know; and 3. Tell the truth about Hollywood.”

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