Jeff Smith, a white-bearded minister who became public television’s popular “Frugal Gourmet” before a sex scandal ruined his career, has died, his business manager said Friday. He was 65.
Smith died in his sleep Wednesday, Jim Paddleford said. He had long suffered from heart disease and had a valve replaced in 1981.
In the 1960s, Smith, a United Methodist minister, began teaching a course at the University of Puget Sound in Tacoma titled “Food as Sacrament and Celebration.”
Eventually he got his own program on the local PBS affiliate — “Cooking Fish Creatively” — and his career took off with an appearance on Phil Donahue’s talk show.
“The Frugal Gourmet” became the nation’s most-watched cooking show, and a series of accompanying cookbooks broke sales records for the category.
But in 1997, seven men filed a lawsuit alleging they had been sexually abused by Smith as youths. Six said the abuse occurred while they worked for him at the Chaplain’s Pantry, a restaurant he operated in Tacoma in the 1970s. The seventh alleged Smith abused him after picking him up as a hitchhiker in 1992.
Smith was soon off the air.
Smith denied the allegations and was never charged with a crime. He and his insurance companies paid an undisclosed sum to settle the lawsuit.
Smith is survived by his wife, Patricia, and two sons.