B. Smith, Restaurateur And Lifestyle Icon, Dies At 70 Of Early Onset Alzheimer's : Code Switch Born Barbara Elaine Smith, she began her career as a model and went on to gain fame and influence as a restaurateur, celebrity chef, lifestyle doyenne and entertainer.
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B. Smith, Restaurateur And Lifestyle Icon, Dies At 70 Of Early Onset Alzheimer's

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B. Smith, Restaurateur And Lifestyle Icon, Dies At 70 Of Early Onset Alzheimer's

B. Smith, Restaurateur And Lifestyle Icon, Dies At 70 Of Early Onset Alzheimer's

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NOEL KING, HOST:

We got the sad news over the weekend that after a brave struggle with early onset Alzheimer's disease, B. Smith, the former model, restauranteur and lifestyle expert died. She was 70. She lived her final years with the love and support of her husband of two decades, Dan Gasby, but it wasn't easy on either of them. Karen Grigsby Bates from our Code Switch podcast has the story.

KAREN GRIGSBY BATES, BYLINE: For about 20 years, starting in the mid-'90s, the name B. Smith seemed to be everywhere.

(SOUNDBITE OF TV SHOW, "B. SMITH WITH STYLE")

BARBARA SMITH: Hi. Happy holidays. Welcome to "B. Smith With Style."

BATES: Smith's weekly syndicated TV show was a must-see for fans who enjoyed her vibrant personality, luminous smile and joy in creating a welcoming atmosphere for friends and visitors. A former fashion model-turned-entrepreneur, Barbara Elaine Smith was known as B. to her friends and fans. With her business partner and husband, Dan Gasby, Smith created an empire that encompassed bestselling cookbooks, the weekly show and a lifestyle magazine that briefly was published by American Express. There were housewares, bed linens, even furniture.

(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED RECORDING)

SMITH: My collection is made up of 40 pieces inspired by the places I've lived or visited.

BATES: She opened her first restaurant, B. Smith's, in Manhattan's theater district in 1986. Two other B. Smith's followed in the '90s, one near her summer home on Long Island and another in a historic Washington, D.C., location.

(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED RECORDING)

SMITH: Hi, I'm B. Smith. I'm here at my restaurant in Washington, D.C., in historical Union Station. Yes, we are a landmark dining room, and I'm very proud...

(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED RECORDING)

SMITH: I'm B. Smith, and I suffer from Alzheimer's disease.

BATES: The B. Smith who appeared in a public service announcement in 2015 was a woman whose wattage had dimmed considerably. Smith had been diagnosed with early onset Alzheimer's in 2013, and the disease was progressing swiftly. She forgot things easily and once became lost for 17 hours. Despite that, she and Gasby did several interviews to educate the public and destigmatize the disease. Here she speaks with psychologist Phil McGraw on his TV show.

(SOUNDBITE OF TV SHOW, "DR. PHIL")

PHIL MCGRAW: B., what is the most difficult thing for you in your daily life?

SMITH: The most difficult in my daily life - I have a tendency of sometimes doing a little too much (laughter).

BATES: The interviews tapered off quickly as Smith's condition continued to deteriorate. She lived quietly with Gasby in their home on Long Island. But someone else was living with them, and in 2018, Gasby confirmed the rumors - he had a girlfriend, and together, they were caring for Smith. Last year on "The Today Show," Gasby explained to friend Al Roker how painful it was to watch Smith fade.

(SOUNDBITE OF TV SHOW, "THE TODAY SHOW")

DAN GASBY: The perfect person for you and you watch them slowly dissolve, and you go down with them.

BATES: Some people understood and sympathized. Others, like "The View's" Sunny Hostin, were appalled.

(SOUNDBITE OF TV SHOW, "THE VIEW")

SUNNY HOSTIN: I find it very disrespectful that he is with his wife and disrespecting her by being with his girlfriend in their home.

(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED RECORDING)

GASBY: I believe in the sanctity of marriage.

BATES: Dan Gasby told The Washington Post, but not until death do you part.

(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED RECORDING)

GASBY: If the person is not there, that you should sit there and watch your life shrivel up.

BATES: As more Americans are diagnosed with Alzheimer's, more caregivers will have to ask themselves - how do you honor the life of your loved one while managing to preserve your own?

Karen Grigsby Bates, NPR News.

(SOUNDBITE OF MUSIC)

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