The terrifying entertainment columnist Nikki Finke, who created the trade website Deadline in 2006
and whose tough manner and incisive scoops made it one of Hollywood’s most important news sources, passed away on Sunday morning. Naturally, Deadline broke the news first, adding that Finke had been battling an extended, unknown illness. She was 68.
Jay Penske, the founder and CEO of Penske Media Corp., who bought Finke’s burgeoning website in 2009, said of Finke: “At her finest, Nikki Finke epitomized the spirit of journalism and was never hesitant to speak the hard realities with an incisive style and an intriguing spark.”
She was honest and frank. Nikki was never easy, but I will always remember her as one of my most unforgettable friends.
Before moving to Los Angeles, Finke thrived in some of the most competitive media environments in the world, covering Moscow for the Associated Press and Washington, D.C., for Newsweek. She started writing a column for L.A. Weekly called “Deadline Hollywood” in 2002, and it was when she first turned her icy focus on the inner workings of Hollywood.
The Long Island native rose to fame with her clever exclusives, insider analysis, and yearly “live-snarking” of the Academy Awards after purchasing a domain name for “14 bucks and change.” Despite being extremely well-known and on Forbes’ list of the “World’s Most Powerful Women,” the blogger was a notorious recluse who avoided screenings and never saw her sources in person.
Finke signed a contract permitting her to continue as the site’s editor-in-chief when Penske’s business, then known as Mail.com Media Corp., purchased Deadline for a rumored low seven-figure price in 2009. Growing troubles, however, including a departure from her signature acerbity in the house style as other writers were added, led to regular disputes between management and the “most dreaded writer” in Hollywood, as the Los Angeles Times dubbed her in 2011.
Finke left the company in 2013 and launched NikkiFinke.com the following year. After that failed, she started HollywoodDementia.com, a publication for flash fiction about the entertainment industry.
However, she stayed connected to Deadline, and in 2016, right around the site’s tenth anniversary, she posted her last article there. She said with more than a hint of pride, “I didn’t set out to be a disruptor. Or an online journalist who started something from nothing and forced the Hollywood trades to back off; the website is now owned by Penske Media and is valued at more than $100 million.
Finke said, “Or a woman with brass balls, a fuck-you attitude, and merciless hustling, who told the moguls the unpleasant realities and properly reported scoops first.
According to a 2006 MarketWatch report, the enigmatic writer expressed her desire to rest in peace at the Pierce Brothers cemetery in Westwood, next to other legendary actors. “She said the truth about Hollywood,” Finke told the site, “might be written on my tombstone.”