By Randee Mia Berman
It’s nearly impossible to wrap up a life in 100 words. Ilona Royce Smithkin was, in a word, extraordILONAry.
Ilona was a painter, dancer, author, hat designer, sketch artist, cabaret singer, eyelashes creator, and divine friend. As a teenager in the ’60s, I admired her as a radiant Provincetown summer fixture; in the ’80s, as a West Village icon living above the beloved Beatrice Inn.
We rekindled our friendship when she turned 100…smack in the middle of the pandemic. A fellow performer and artist, she marveled at our shared passion for polka dots, ocean waves, clouds, solitude, our kindred spirits, desire to make people smile, snail mail correspondence, the weekly turkey sandwiches I’d order for her long-distance from Angel Foods Market (I was in NYC, she was in Ptown), and my colorful Ilona-ish Operation Covidance outfits. “If we’d met earlier we would have danced together in the streets,” she said. She loved connecting exuberant people, and taught me to slow down and savor the moment. “Look for good. Inhale deeply. Listen for those you can help. And speak with kindness.” Ilona, who did full splits on stage at 95, epitomized celebrating life to the fullest. She died on 8/1, the reverse of 18, or chai, which in Hebrew means life. At the bitter end she said, “Stop the morphine—get me some vodka.” I’ll drink to that.
To watch my podcast interview with Ilona (on Mia’s World), go to youtu.be/yi6msI6m6Jg.