John Simon, a legendary theater, film and literary critic who spent more than 50 years gaining a reputation for stinging reviews and lively prose at New York magazine and other outlets, died on Sunday. He was 94.
His wife, Patricia Hoag Simon, shared the news in a Facebook post Monday. “My husband John Simon died last evening at Westchester Medical Center. We were having lunch at the local dinner theatre when he was stricken. He was 94 years old and had an extraordinary life,” Hoag wrote. “Go see a play or read a great book or poem or watch some tennis in his honor–he loved all those things. RIP hubby mine.”
Hoag also shared one of the final pieces of writing from Simon that was posted to his blog last month.
“One person’s critic is another person’s crackpot. That they are not united in their opinions is ascribable to the Latin saying: quot homines, tot sententiae,” Simon wrote. “I myself prefer being considered a creep, but that is what you get for having what Vladimir Nabokov called “Strong Opinions.” It is odd that in a country so wallowing in negativity, starting with mass shootings and climaxing with Trump, such an unim-portant matter as theater criticism should generate so much hostility. The only target patently more important is lead in the drinking water.”
After being dismissed from New York magazine in 2005 following an epic 36-year run, Simon joined Bloomberg News between June 2005 through November 2010. He also written for Esquire, the New York Times Book Review, The New Criterion and National Review. He most recently reviewed theater for The Westchester Guardian.
Simon earned a reputation for being aggressive in his words and often earned scorn from both actors and fellow critics for his work. In 1969. he was denied membership in the New York Drama Critics’ Circle, though he was ultimately inducted the following year.
Roger Ebert criticized Simon for frequently criticizing the physical appearance of actors, writing in his 2011 memoir “Life Itself,” “I feel repugnance for the critic John Simon, who made it a specialty to attack the way actors look. They can’t help how they look, any more than John Simon can help looking like a rat.”
Ebert and his colleague Gene Siskel also famously sparred with Simon over “Star Wars” after Simon called George Lucas’ 1977 film “dehumanizing” and damaging to children.
“I feel they are so bad because [‘Star Wars’ movies] are completely dehumanizing,” Simon said. “They are brutalizing children,” he told “Nightline” host Ted Koppel. “They are stultifying children. They are making children dumber than they need to be.”
Simon is the recipient of the George Jean Nathan Award in 1970 and the George Polk Award for Film Criticism in 1968.