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NEW YORK — Howard Kissel, a popular and prolific critic here for nearly 40 years, died on Friday from complications of a liver transplant. He was 69.
Kissel became the arts editor of WWD in 1974. He joined the New York Daily News in 1986, spending two decades there, mostly as chief drama critic. When a new editor at the Daily News in 1997 replaced him with another critic, Kissel left the newspaper, returning later only when the editor left. Kissel accepted a buyout from the company in 2008, but continued contributing to the News’ online blog, “The Cultural Tourist.” When he lost that platform in 2010, he began writing reviews for the Huffington Post.
A tall man with the bemused yet surprised air of an owl, the soft-spoken Kissel’s reviews could deliver both well-crafted praise and stinging barbs, whether scorning a songwriter’s derivative melodies or panning an actress’ dress. He was the only person to have been chairman of both the New York Film Critics’ Circle and the New York Drama Critics’ Circle.
Kissel’s multifaceted career included writing books such as “The Abominable Showman,” an unauthorized biography of producer David Merrick, and “New York Theater Walks,” self-guided tours of theater-related New York. He even had a turn in Woody Allen’s “Stardust Memories,” playing Allen’s agent.
In a 2001 WWD article, “The Alumni Association,” where former staffers offered their most vivid memories of working at the publication, Kissel said, “When I think back to the Seventies, I think of how much fun we had. It was almost as much fun as working on the high school paper, and because of [publisher] Mr. [John] Fairchild’s ambitions, we got to sit with the ‘in crowd’ in the high school cafeteria.”
Kissel is survived by his sisters, Anne Kissel Elliot and Judy Kissel.