NEW YORK (AP) — Nikki Finke, the veteran reporter who became one of Hollywood’s top journalists as the founder of the entertainment trade website Deadline.com and whose dogged tenacity made her the most feared columnist in show business, has died. It was 68.
Finke died on Sunday in Boca Raton, Florida, after an extended illness, according to Deadline.
A noted reclusive blogger, Finke began writing the LA Weekly’s “Deadline Hollywood” column in 2002 and made it essential reading for gossip and trade news. Four years later, he launched Deadline Hollywood Daily as a website.
Blogging at Deadline.com, Finke built a formidable gossip and gossip media empire known for her “live” awards shows and story updates that screamed “TOLDJA!” when one of her previous exclusives turned out to be accurate.
Finke’s sharp-elbowed style earned her many enemies in Hollywood. But the Long Island native’s regular drumming proved her considerable influence with executives, agents and reporters. In 2010, Forbes ranked her among the “world’s most powerful women”. Finke was unapologetic, refusing to soften her approach for the brightest stars or the most powerful studio executives.
“I mean, they play rough,” Finke told The New York Times in 2015. “I’ve got to play rough, too.”
Finke did it all largely from the confines of her West Los Angeles apartment, not at red carpet premieres or cocktail parties. But from her secluded retreat, Finke could mercilessly skewer executives whose decision-making she disapproved of. He once called Jeff Zucker, then chairman of NBC Universal, “one of the most incompetent people to ever run an entertainment company.”
“I can’t help it!” Finke told The New Yorker in 2009. “It’s like wickedness is pouring out of my fingers!”
In 2009, Deadline Hollywood was purchased by Jay Penske, whose company, Penske Media Corporation, would later also acquire Variety and The Hollywood Reporter. Finke often clashed with Penske, particularly after the purchase of Deadline’s rivals. He left the site in 2013 after months of public outrage, but remained on contract as a consultant. “He tried to buy my silence,” 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 enigmatic spark. She was bold and true,” Penske said in a statement Sunday. “It was never easy with Nikki, but she will always be one of the most memorable people in my life.”
After her retirement, Finke dabbled in various projects but never returned to entertainment journalism. Her deal with Penske reportedly banned her from reporting on Hollywood for 10 years, though at one point she threatened to go solo again with NikkiFinke.com. Instead, she debuted HollywoodDementia.com, with fictional showbiz stories instead of real ones.
Before her fame with Deadline, Finke spent years as a reporter for the Associated Press, Newsweek, the Los Angeles Times, the New York Post and the New York Observer. It inspired a 2011 HBO pilot starring Diane Keaton as reporter Tilda Watski.