Jewish Journal


October 21, 2008

Mr. Blackwell—born Richard Selzer —dies at 86



Mr. Blackwell, whose annual "worst dressed" list turned him into a household name, has died. He was 86.

He had been in failing health and died Sunday afternoon at Cedars-Sinai Medical Center of complications from an intestinal infection, according to his publicist, Harlan Boll.

Blackwell was born Richard Sylvan Selzer on Aug. 29, 1922, in the Bensonhurst neighborhood of Brooklyn, N.Y.,

In 2002, Blackwell told The Journal that his criticisms are "tongue in cheek with a very strong truth behind them. I don't believe in vicious personal attacks of what they're wearing. It's an impression of how it hits me."

The following is from that 2002 article:

Blackwell, who pins his age as "over 60 and under 100," grew up in Brooklyn. He has Russian-Turkish heritage that descends from the Cohen tribe.

When Blackwell signed on at RKO under his real name, Richard Selzer, the studio's chief gave him a moniker makeover.

"Howard Hughes said that Richard Selzer would never do," says Blackwell, who remembers the legendary billionaire for "his concern, his caring."

Blackwell's famous fashion dos and don'ts originated in a 1960 American Weekly article. Yet he never proclaimed himself the last word on fashion.

"The public did," Blackwell insists. "I just did the list and their feeling was that I'm honest, direct and outspoken."

Jewish entertainers have not escaped Blackwell's radar either.

"She's come a long way and is looking great now," reports Blackwell of Barbra Streisand, once dubbed "Yentl goes mental."

But Phyllis Diller was miffed when she fell off Worst Dressed.

Says Blackwell: "She asked me, 'Where did I go right?!'"

Blackwell is survived by his life partner of almost 60 years, R.L. Spencer.

Instead of flowers, donations can be made to The ROAR Foundation at http://shambala.org, The Actors Fund at http://actorsfund.org or http://noonprop8.com.

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