Pulitzer Prize-winning author Gregory White Smith, a longtime friend of Juilliard who co-founded the Juilliard in Aiken festival and was an honorary degree recipient, died on April 10. Smith, who was 62, died at his home in Aiken, S.C., of a rare brain tumor according to his husband and co-author, Steven Naifeh. President Joseph W. Polisi extolled Smith’s “deep understanding and love of music” as well as his abiding love for the School.
Smith was born in Ithaca, N.Y., and graduated from Colby College, in Maine, where he studied English literature. He met Naifeh, who would become his life and work partner, on their first day at Harvard Law School, in 1974; in addition to a law degree, Smith also earned a master’s in education from Harvard. Smith worked as a lawyer briefly after graduating, but he had wanted to be a writer since childhood. He and Naifeh collaborated on the Best Lawyers in America series, which first appeared in 1983, followed by the Best Doctors in America series, which appeared in 1994. It was in part the success of those series that enabled the pair to pursue more literary pursuits: they collaborated on more than a dozen books, including a 1990 biography of Jackson Pollock, which won the Pulitzer Prize. Five of their books, among them the Pollock biography, a biography of Vincent van Gogh, and an account of a double murder in Salt Lake City, have been New York Times best-sellers.
While he was still in law school, Smith was diagnosed with a rare type of brain tumor and sought treatment—including 13 surgeries, some very risky—all over the world. In 1987, doctors at the Mayo Clinic told him he only had months to live. Ten years later, the couple wrote Making Miracles Happen, a chronicle of Smith’s and others’ experiences beating medical odds. It was also a best-seller.
Smith and Naifeh moved in 1990 from New York City to Aiken, where they had purchased the classic but run-down 60-room former Vanderbilt-Whitney mansion, which they called Joye Cottage. Their chronicle of the renovation, On a Street Called Easy, in a Cottage Called Joye: A Restoration Comedy, came out in 1996.
In 2009, the pair co-founded the Juilliard in Aiken festival, which completed its sixth year in March. Joye Cottage is always one of the festival venues, and Smith and Naifeh have bequeathed it to Juilliard for future use as an artists’ haven for students. In recognition of their friendship to the School, the couple received a Juilliard Medal in 2011; that spring, they received honorary doctorates.
Although Smith’s health had declined precipitously in recent months—he was in the hospital at the time of the festival—his support of Juilliard had not. He and Naifeh were avid supporters of this year’s Juilliard in Aiken co-production of Bach’s St. Matthew Passion, which the Historical Performance program’s Juilliard415 ensemble performed in March with the Choir of Trinity Wall Street at Alice Tully Hall; Clayton State University, and the Aiken festival.