Model, restaurateur and lifestyle icon Barbara Elaine Smith, known most commonly as B. Smith, died Saturday at age 70 after a seven year fight with Alzheimer’s disease.
Smith was diagnosed with early onset Alzheimer’s in 2013.
“It is with great sadness that my daughter Dana and I announce the passing of my wife, Barbara Elaine Smith,” Dan Gasby, Smith’s husband, said in a statement. “Thank you to all the friends and fans who supported B. and our family during her journey. Thank you to everyone for respecting our privacy during this agonizing time.”
Smith was perhaps most well-known for her work in modeling, when she became the second black model to appear on the cover of Mademoiselle magazine in 1976. She later went on to host “B. Smith With Style,” a home decoration and cooking show. She also authored several cookbooks and opened three restaurants.
B. Smith’s Battle With Alzheimer’s
After her early onset Alzheimer’s diagnosis, B. Smith grew quieter in public life but continued to maintain a commitment to increasing awareness about the disease, especially among the black community. On her website and in a book she co-authored with her husband and Michael Shnayerson, Smith wrote about the different stages of the disease and some of the personality changes to expect.
“Two years later, B. still has that dazzling smile, and her mood is often upbeat. But not as much, and not as often,” her husband Gasby wrote in Before I Forget. “The dark moods are deeper, the frustrations more profound. Often, now, she has more of the aspects of the other personality types: apathetic, depressed, even frightened. No one said this would be easy—and it’s not.”
On Twitter, fans and supporters mourned the loss and expressed appreciation for Smith’s “elegance” and “grace.” Al Roker, Co-Host of the Today Show, wrote that Smith “and her husband, Dan Gasby were at the forefront of Alzheimer’s research for people of color.”
Past studies have shown that African American and Hispanic populations are at a higher risk of dementia than the white population. Participation in clinical trials is also low, and brain donation for Alzheimer’s also lags, in minority groups.
“Alzheimer’s is a 21st-century civil rights issue,” Gasby told USA TODAY. “Two out of three people with Alzheimer’s disease are women. Blacks are two to three times more likely to have Alzheimer’s. And it drives people into poverty, in many cases taking away the gains that a sizable and growing portion of people in the African-American community have made.”
Several celebrities have stepped forward with stories of their own family members suffering from Alzheimer’s or losing a loved one to the disease. Last year, Dr. Mehmet Oz announced his mother had Alzheimer’s. In December 2019, former professional skateboarder Tony Hawk also lost his mother to the disease.