Olivia Goldsmith — Gone

Olivia Goldsmith has passed away. And I’m angry. This did not have to happen. Goldsmith was only 54. Fifty-four. One of the first female partners at Booz Allen Hamilton. And then a not-too-shabby fiction career. But the circumstances of her death were this: she was about to undergo plastic surgery. But she felt (or was it her editors or her agent?) that she had to live up to some pinnacle of perfection. She needed a flawless face, a mug devoid of wrinkles for the photographers, an image devoid of any signs that, hey, she was 54. The great irony was that she had skewered this kind of thinking in her novel, The First Wives Club. But to hell with the merits of her writing, to hell with the fact that she had no problem savaging mid-lifers in her books. No, the important thing was the plastic surgery. There was the real world and the world within her fiction. And for Goldsmith, the real world was far crueler.

Just as she was about to go under, she had a violent reaction to the anesthesia, which incapacitated her. And now she’s dead.

All because of an image, all because of a stinkin’ author photo, all because we still judge books by their back covers rather than their innards, and all because civilization cannot stop pestering, whether deliberately or subconsiously, the older, the fatter, the more wrinkled, the more infirm, the non-Caucasian, and anybody else who doesn’t fall into the harsh physical virtues dictated by Vanity Fair and People. Olivia Goldsmith’s death isn’t just a terribly premature end for a writer who was fun. It also shows that ideals have spiraled completely out of control. Or perhaps it just confirms them.

Goldsmith’s death did not have to happen. And yet it did. And the publishing industry, with concerns of gloss and glamour, won’t stop perpetuating these shameful conditions. It will continue defaulting to the purty lil gals (Nell Freudenberger) or the hot young things (Zoe Trope), rather than the magic of the offerings. This is nothing less than a goddam tragedy. Because we lose authors like Goldsmith in the process.

[UPDATE: There’s been some speculation on this entry. And I feel it’s important to clarify the following: (1) Lest the reader waltz into grassy knoll territory, I didn’t intend to suggest that the publishing industry was the smoking gun, but that there may be extant environmental factors within that contributed to Goldsmith’s decision — a decision, it should be noted, that she alone made. Goldsmith was an author who sold well. And, as such, she had a profile to maintain. Said factors can be seen on book covers that dwell upon anatomical merits over ability, responded to in high kitsch by Susan Orlean on the cover of The Bullfighter Checks Her Makeup. These elements, which pressure women to look and remain young and beautiful, can be observed during a casual stroll in the Western world. (2) No one knows enough about Goldsmith’s motivations to make a final judgment call as to cause. This was idle speculation, but I’ll let it stand unmodified for the record.]

Be Sociable, Share!


  1. Hey Ed,

    I really share your fury over this one. It’s a sad coincidence that the novel I’m working on uses just this kind of death as a leaping off point. Coincidence? Hardly – the exact same thing happened a year ago to a woman I knew. Vibrant, beautiful, intelligent with no earthly reason to go under the knife (except for a sadly inattentive husband), and an hour later she was dead.

    The problem, of course, is this is hardly limited to the literary world and, if anything, the literary world is a Johnny-come-lately to this phenomenon. You’d have hoped we’d be immune to this sort of thing but the march appears relentless.

    It’s hard to feel snarky and arch in the face of this kind of thing.

    Take care, amigo.

  2. Mark: Well, like I said over at Sarah’s, I wrote this while pissed. The overall components of the plastic surgery situation is a greater ball of wax altogether. If Goldsmith’s premature passing demands anything, it’s that we should pay more attention to the greater consequences. My hope is that this mentality doesn’t become de rigueur in publishing, though it’s more of a hope than a reasonable possibility.

  3. I must have been on Mars or something, for I just find out about the death of a dearly, talented and so funny writer. I am still shocked over this. I adore(d) Olivia Goldsmith’s novels. I became addicted to them after reading the showbiz romp of FLAVOR OF THE MONTH, her second novel. To this day, nothing out there can measure up to it. When asked which one of her novels was her proudest achievement, Goldsmith always answered FLAVOR, and justifiably so.

    I am so sad she is no longer with us, so sad for her family and friends.

    As for the media being the culprits for her untimely death, there are many reasons to blame them, one being for implating us that we have to look a certain way to comform to society. And sadly, one of us paid the price for it.

    Cheers, Olivia Goldsmith, wherever you are !


  4. wow!!! Thanks for having this. I heard of Olivia’s death on Friday and could not find any information on it until today. I am so so so sad. I adored her and still do. What a HUGE loss. I used to talk to her on the phone every few months when she would call the bookstore where I worked and talk about her books and what she was doing at that moment. I feel so fortunate to have known her just the little bit that I did. What a character she was. It is a shame that our sociaty has come to believe that no matter what you hae to offer it all revolves around your looks. She was beautiful!!!!

  5. I had extensive fabulous plastic surgery, but it is very very serious business. I liked her books and feel terrible. What I find fascinating, is that I havent been able to find the name of the doctor anywhere…anyone else know??
    They are keepin g it very quiet and sure, it was a top doc!!

  6. I can’t believe it either, Olivia Goldsmith was a truly inspiring author. After reading her novels, I just felt better about being myself and I always hated to see them end. I started with Bad Boy and I was HOOKED. I suggested them to my mother and have devoured all that I can since. I am deeply saddened to see that there will be no more writings from her. Nothing out there seems quite as good as Olivia’s writings, it will be a sad end to my reading career.

  7. yes this is sad, but many, many people die doing things they choose to do. Skiing accidents, rock climbing accidents, race car drivers. She was an adult, knew the risks, and took them. Don’t blame the media. Don’t even blame her!


  8. Today,a good month after Goldsmith’s death… I learned of her passing. I admired Goldsmith… for her book… thought she was clever in writing First Wives Club..was upset though to see that she had bleached her hair to cover her natural brunette locks for the book cover..thinking this would help sell her book..she admitted this during a late nite interview… but society judges by appearance and not depth…or wisdom… and so our society will suffer for age,life experience with wisdom are so needed in this country…and Women/Mothers/Wives are so denigrated. Maryalice/MAC

  9. I had just started reading Chapter 13 of “Switcheroo,” an Olivia Goldsmith novel. The first paragraph of this chapter reads, “Sylvie wokeup choking and realized two things: she hadn’t died under the knife and she was in a stark white recovery room. The surgery was over….” In this novel, Sylvie, the main character, had undergone plastic surgery to have the skin tightened beneath her chin. No, it wasn’t to have her skin tightened; it was to get her philandering husband back.

    I put the book down and picked up the newspaper. Moments later I read that Olivia Goldsmith had died. I was shocked. It seems to be such a contradiction–so antithetical to all that she railed against in her novels.

    The pressure to be thin and beautiful is overwhelming in our society. But we can rebel, and say no more. To that end, I no longer subscribe to Allure, Oprah, Cosmo, etc..I am not concerned that the 10 extra pounds I carry need to be lost. I eat and drink whatever I want, and if 10 extra pounds is the penalty, hey, I can live with that. I refuse to dye my hair; I like the slivers of grey. I will not paint my finger nails, or teeter on stileto heels. Now, if only I could give up lipstick…

    The freedom is so empowering. I have so much more time to do things that truly enrich the soul.

    I am so sorry, Olivia. It should not have happened.


  10. Could you please tell me how to reach Olivia Goldsmiths Agent? I would really appreciate it as I have a novel and screenplay and I would like to query her about represent me. Thanks a lot. Barbara Bixon

  11. Barbara: Offhand, I don’t know who Goldsmith’s agent is. But I would imagine her publisher would know. You may want to try them.

  12. I did not know of Olivia Goldsmith until I read about her death as a result of surgery. A few months later I picked up ‘Best Sellers’in a second hand bookshop…I am savouring the last 50 pages (to go). Her writing is so easy to read, accessible, holds a canny ability to observe others & in this book at least, focuses on the foibles, superficialities, business corruption in the publishing industry. Some of the characters in contrast display commendable ethical qualities.
    It’s a great read. I have come to appreciate Olivia through the written word just like one of the character’s works (The Duplicity of Men) that a mother struggled to have published after her daughter’s suicide. Life is full of such paradoxes.
    I feel very saddened by the loss of this woman’s life. My anger is further fuelled by the impact of the media and the devastating contribution it makes on the lives of individuals.

  13. You know, it’s such a tragedy that such a gifted and funny writer as Olivia Goldsmith, whose books railed against women being pressured to be thin and beautiful, died trying to be just that. I mean, I know she was an adult, knew the risks of what she was doing, but still, society places high profile people like her in such a pressure cooker to be perpetually young and beautiful so that their author photos on the backs of books will attract readers.

    I’m 47, silver haired, with small sun damage lines under my eyes (well, I am now DEVOTED to my daily regimen of sunscreen, sunscreen, sunscreen!), but most fortunately blessed with still relatively youthful looks. Still, I think we Baby Boomers, of which Olivia Goldsmith was one, have been pressured by having been raised in such youth conscious society that we are pressured into railing against the vagaries of aging – grey hair, wrinkles, bi- and trifocals. Witness the boom of LASIK surgery, Botox and other age defying procedures. It’s all so sad that we can’t just age gracefully and accept it for what it is.

    I wear trifocals unashamedly. I keep my hair grey. I’ve got a blossoming case of middle age spread going on. I’ve packed on 20 pounds since hitting 40. Yeah, at times it bums me out, but by the same token, I AM 47. I AM middle aged. Who are we trying to kid, women? Let’s accept our middle age for what it is, something that but a few generations ago would have made us positively ancient. And how you deal with middle age, weight gain, trifocals, grey hair and wrinkles is all about attitude. The reason I sport a youthful looking face, despite grey hair and trifocals, is all about how I feel about life. In the end, that will determine how gracefully you age. Don’t rail against it – celebrate it.

    And accept those wrinkles, grey hair and trifocals as a badge of honour that you’ve made it this far. Our grandmothers and great grandmothers didn’t have that option. Their lifespans were far shorter and what is now middle age for us was old age for them. We’ve still got half a lifetime to go and medical science is making it possible for us to lead fuller, more active lives well into our old age. So LIVE IT UP!

  14. just surfed in and found a really great place here. it’s very informal and good.
    go on like this and i will surely visit you again.

  15. hmm…. a woman author who belittles the cult of the young, dies trying to look young. a president who excapes impeachment by saying “i dont remember” dies, unable to remember. i dont believe in fate or justice, so irony is all i can attach to that one.

  16. Just as I went for major plastic surgery due to weight loss, I found out that exactly a month before, she had died. I hadn’t even read one of her novels lying in my home, and I felt so abandoned reading it afterwards, knowing she died in such a fluke so young. What a loss for her readers.

  17. In response to the question about who Ms. Goldsmith’s surgeon was—the June 2004 issue of Vogue identifies him as Norman Pastorek, M.D.

  18. Having nearly completed Olivia’s seemingly less popular novel, Fashionably Late, I felt inclined to do a google.com search on the obviously gifted author behind the pages of this remarkable book. As a fashion design student and fashion columnist of my college newspaper, I am riveted by her ability to get down to the heart of an industry that prides itself on prettiness and prestige. There lies not only what I expect is her usual incorporation of satire, but also something deeper – an undertone of sadness and a desperation – that feels, more than anything else, honest. She became a role model, someone for me to aspire to in these past 500 or so pages, and I wanted to let her know the impact she has had on me. I came to this site to learn about her life; instead, I found out about her death. Like the rest of you, I think it is a disgrace that a woman with so much raw talent and natural ability, who was so accepted by her readers through her writing, could at the same time feel so rejected by an age-obsessed society. And while I can’t help but feel angry, I think we can all understand why one might feel inclined to go in for plastic surgery – and that is what haunts me the most. We live in a world that emphasizes the outer over the inner, the beauty over the risk. And it is not just the baby boomer generation feeling the impact; young adults, teenagers, kids today everywhere are so boggled down by the pressures placed on them to live up to that unreachable ideal. The strive for perfection is a never-ending cycle that only seems to be getting worse. Olivia’s death should not be taken lightly; awareness of this tragedy is the only preventative action we can take against this type of thing from reoccurring. As important as I feel it is to speak of her death, I admit I eagerly await reading her other seven novels , if not for any reason other than to celebrate her life.

  19. I had never heard of Olivia Goldsmith until I picked up “Fashionably Late” from a clearance sale at my local library. I couldn’t put it down as I became entranced by the characters and the deep meaning behind each one. She is a special writer. So I went on this web-site to find other titles and found out she had died!! Died!! I believe “Fashionably Late” was written in about 1994 and I had no idea she would have died only this year. What a shock! This is a true loss of a wonderful author. It definitely shows that this life is soooooooooooo short…like a fog in the morning that disappears by 10 am. I am so sorry to have lost her obvious talent. bruce

  20. why on earth does everyone have to have plastic surgery to look like barbie dolls? Am I alone in wanting mums to look like mums? I saw a photo of 3 generations of Presleys, Priscilla, daughter and granddaughter and had difficulty in identifying the grandmother. Her face looked beautiful, but characterless. People are always seeking eternal youth, why can’t we enjoy being ourselves. Olivia’s death proves that we can’t have it all, but she had enormous talent, humour and was pretty, but it seemingly was not enough. Trisha

Comments are closed.