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

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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