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Nikki Finke, the polarizing entertainment journalist who founded the website Deadline and wielded immense power by focusing an acerbic and unrelenting lens on Hollywood, has died. She was 68.
Finke died Sunday in Boca Raton, Florida, following a prolonged illness, a family spokesperson told The Hollywood Reporter.
At L.A. Weekly, Finke headed its Deadline Hollywood Daily column from 2002-09. In 2006, she launched Deadline Hollywood Daily, an around-the-clock online version, and became a key source of news surrounding the 2007 WGA strike.
That year, The New York Times‘ Brian Stelter wrote that Finke’s blog had “become a critical forum for Hollywood news and gossip, known for analyzing (in sometimes insulting terms) the behind-the-scenes maneuvering of moguls,” with her reporting on the strike ultimately solidifying “her position as a Hollywood power broker.”
Finke landed scoops with a cut-throat style that both impressed and incensed industry members. The late Brad Grey, then chief executive of Paramount, told the Times a year after the Deadline blog launched that even with her in-your-face reporting style, her reach was to be respected. “Like it or not,” he said, “everyone in Hollywood reads her.”
In 2008, Elle magazine named her one of its 25 most influential women in Hollywood, and two years later, she was ranked 79th on Forbes’ list of “The World’s Most Powerful Women.”
Finke sold Deadline to Mail.com Media Corp. — the Jay Penske company now known as Penske Media Corp. — in 2009, an agreement that would see her continue to serve as its editor-in-chief. She took a cut of the site’s ad revenue.
But in 2013, she exited Deadline after editorial clashes with Penske.
“At her best, Nikki Finke embodied the spirit of journalism and was never afraid to tell the hard truths with an incisive style and enigmatic spark. She was brash and true,” Penske, founder, chairman and CEO of Penske Media, which also owns THR, said Sunday in a statement. “It was never easy with Nikki, but she will always remain one of the most memorable people in my life.”
In 2014, she launched yet another media endeavor, NikkiFinke.com, and then a year later HollywoodDementia.com, a website that published short fiction about the business written by Finke and others.
“There is a lot of truth in fiction,” she told the Times of that endeavor. “There are things I am going to be able to say in fiction that I can’t say in journalism right now.”
Finke almost became the subject of Hollywood fiction herself, but in 2011, HBO passed on the pilot for Tilda, a series based on a Finke-like blogger that was to star Diane Keaton. The pilot, written by Bill Condon and Tell Me You Love Me creator Cynthia Mort without Finke’s involvement, also featured Elliot Page and Jason Patric.
Born in 1953, Finke grew up on Sands Point on Long Island before graduating from Wellesley College. Her early career included stints at The Associated Press, where she covered politics and worked on the foreign desk, The Dallas Morning News, Newsweek, the Los Angeles Times and The New York Observer, where she covered entertainment as the weekly’s West Coast editor.
At Deadline, Finke also was known for her snarky live-blogging of award shows and was among the first to report about the weekend box office around the clock.
She was rarely photographed, with a website once offering money to anyone who could get a photo of her.
Speaking to her legacy and that of Deadline’s in a 10-year anniversary post for the publication, she wrote that the concept behind her original blog — using a URL purchased for “14 bucks and change” — was to get breaking news out faster than she could with her column.
“I didn’t set out to be a disruptor,” she wrote. “Or an internet journalist who created something out of nothing that put the Hollywood trades back on their heels, and today, under Penske Media ownership, is a website worth $100+ million. Or a woman with brass balls, attitude and ruthless hustle who told hard truths about the moguls and who accurately reported scoops first.”
Finke also wrote for The New York Times, Vanity Fair, Esquire, Harper’s Bazaar, Elle, The Washington Post, Salon.com, Premiere and Los Angeles magazine during her career.
She married Jeffrey W. Greenberg after a years-long engagement in 1980, but they divorced in 1982. She is survived by her sister, Terry Finke Dreyfus, brother-in-law James and nieces Sarah Greenhill and Diana Leighton. Memorial services will be private.
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