The Exorcist makeup legend Dick Smith has died

Dick Smith, the makeup artist on The Exorcist, Dark Shadows, Scanners and more, is dead at 97

Dick Smith and friends
Dick Smith and friends

Dick Smith, known in Hollywood as ‘The Godfather of Makeup’, died 30 July, aged 92.

Although Smith won an Oscar for his make-up work on the period epic Amadeus, his contributions to sci-fi, fantasy and horror are immense.

Active as a make-up artist in Hollywood from 1941, Smith’s break-out work was on Roald Dahl-hosted 1961 anthology ‘Way Out, which was then followed by memorable contributions to numerous TV shows, including vampire soap Dark Shadows, where he depicted the rapid ageing of Barnabas Collins (Jonathan Frid) in a two-part 1967 story.

The early Seventies put Smith on the map, both in genre with his shocking work on 1973’s The Exorcist – the cracked lips and ghoulish pallor of Reagan McNeil (Linda Blaire) being one of horror’s most iconic visuals – and at the cutting edge of mainstream cinema with The Godfather and Taxi Driver, while the following decade saw him work on the likes of Scanners, The Hunger, Starman and The Exorcist sequels.

Smith working with Linda Blaire on the set of The Exorcist
Smith working with Linda Blaire on the set of The Exorcist

Speaking to the Washington Post in 2007, Smith’s protege – and make-up legend in his own right – Rick Baker, commented, “The Exorcist was really a turning point for makeup special effects.

“Dick showed that makeup wasn’t just about making people look scary or old, but had many applications. He figured out a way to make the welts swell up on Linda’s stomach, to make her head spin around, and he created the vomit scenes.”

“Even when the characters were fantastically weird, I always tried to make them believable,” said Smith in the same article. “Actors have to feel like they are the person they are portraying. I think my work has helped many to achieve that.”

Smith leaves behind him not just an incredible body of work, but a legacy through those he worked with and inspired that will pay full tribute to his imagination and creativity for as long as there’s film.