Dick Smith Dead: ‘Godfather of Makeup’ Dies at 92

Dick Smith Makeup Artist
Jonathan Leibson/Getty Images

Dick Smith, known as the “Godfather of Makeup,” has died at age 92. Smith’s protege, Rick Baker, tweeted of the legend’s passing on Thursday morning.

The makeup artist was renowned for his realistic transformations in films like “The Godfather” and “Amadeus” — aging Marlon Brando into Don Corleone and F. Murray Abraham into a wizened Antonio Salieri — garnering an Academy Award for his work in the latter alongside Paul LeBlanc.

In 2012, Smith received an honorary Governor’s Academy Award for his contribution to the field, which was presented by Baker. Earlier this year, Smith received the Makeup Artists Lifetime Achievement Award at the Makeup Artists and Hair Stylist Guild Awards.

He also won a Primetime Emmy in 1967 for his work on Hal Holbrook’s “Mark Twain Tonight!”

“Rarely have there been makeup artists with the legendary inventiveness, creativity and artistic excellence of Dick Smith,” Makeup Artists Guild president Sue Cabral-Ebert said of Smith in January. “Dick’s transparency and willingness to share the secrets of the craft have been the catalyst for young makeup artists all over the world to follow their imaginations and dreams.”

Smith was responsible for realizing Linda Blair’s harrowing possession in “The Exorcist.” His other notable projects included “Taxi Driver,” “The Godfather: Part II,” “The Deer Hunter,” “Little Big Man,” “Scanners,” “Marathon Man” and “Death Becomes Her.”

Beginning his career as the makeup director for NBC in 1945, Smith pioneered a number of techniques that have since become industry staples, including the use of liquid foam latex to fabricate detailed elements that allow actors more range of motion than a simple mask. In addition to Baker, some of Smith’s other notable students include Richard Taylor, Greg Cannom, Alec Gillis, Ve Neill, Kazuhiro Tsuji, Mike Elizalde and Todd Masters.

Masters, founder of film & TV special FX and makeup house MastersFX, said of Smith, “Dick Smith was a friend to all artists, never turning away anyone that phoned him (no matter what time), and he always replied to every letter. I have no idea how he kept in touch with all of us while making some of the most iconic characters in cinema history. Time and time again his keen eye and smooth skills would educate us… I personally can say his lessons were the best education I ever received… and he was one of my favorite friends.”

Smith discovered his passion for makeup while studying at Yale University, teaching himself the techniques that would shape his career after discovering a guide for theatrical makeup at a local bookstore.

He is survived by two sons.

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  1. Wynema Gonzagowski says:

    I had the pleasure of meeting this awesome and sweet man several times at the Makeup Show in Pasadena that was put on by Make-Up Artist Magazine. He would hold a round table where for several hours a very small group of people would sit with him and he would look at their work and talk with them…I managed to make a couple of those sessions and they are some of the fondest memories of my life!!!!! He was sweet and kind and sincerely interested in people… The world has lost not only a fantastic artist but a wonderful human being… I cried when I read it…

  2. Bruce Jasman says:

    Dick also aged Dark Shadows Barnabas Collins character from a 40 year old man to 200 years old, twice once on television then in the movies. Always the best

  3. Clay Marston says:

    RICK SMITH WAS MOST DEFINITELY ONE OF THE TRUE GREATS OF HIS CRAFT WHOSE LIKE SHALL NEVER BE SEEN AGAIN – LOOK TO HIS NUMBER ONE FRIEND AND ASSOCIATE RICK BAKER TO CARRY ON AS HE HAS.

  4. A legend, and an inspiring legacy.

  5. When you compare the make-up work for the old man in Prometheus (2012) by I don’t know who and the make-up to age Max von Sydow into Father Merrin in the Exorcist (1973) by Dick Smith, you can see why he was a genius. Not even to mention the cult head explosion scene from Scanners!

  6. Ken from Toronto says:

    I attended the very first matinee for THE EXORCIST on opening day 26 December 1973. I will NEVER forget (a) Max von Sydow’s aged “Father Merrin” make-up, and (b) Linda Blair’s demonic makeover; the latter was a stunning indelible image…haunts me to this day. Dick Smith was a master of his craft, a genius. F. Murray Abraham’s aged broken Salieri in AMADEUS was memorable as well. Condolences to Mr. Smith’s family, friends and colleagues.

  7. Denise Kasell says:

    Rest in Peace you were The Best!!!

  8. Daniel says:

    So sad.

  9. J.E. Vizzusi says:

    I wonder everyday the future of prosthetics makeup effects. This man was a genius of a genre slowing fading into oblivion. The masters of their art will not be hands on technicians anymore like Mr. Smith. They will be colorists and CGI artists brought to you by a age of digital manipulation. Sad. its so sad to see the work, the artistry and the efforts put forth, fly by the wayside to a electronic makeup effects application rather than the human touch. Now I ask, what could be better that the real thing. RIP Mr. Smith, your canvas and dedication of your art will always be with us to see and to learn from.

    • Shammy Bagi says:

      The Westmores, and The Steins still got it and many new talents are blowing my mind. Credit to this amazing man who was a true genius and artisan who made and left his indelible marks RIP Mr. Smith. All true masters live on through their work and their students.

  10. R.G. says:

    love this artist work ….yes sir! your work has inspire me greatly RG

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