Colorful and controversial former Metropolitan Museum of Art director Thomas Hoving died in his Manhattan home yesterday of cancer; he was 78 years old. Hoving headed the museum between 1967 and 1977 and wrote in his memoir, Making the Mummies Dance that he had to be "a gifted connoisseur, a well-trained scholar, an aesthete, a patient diplomat, a deft fundraiser, an executive, and a conciliator" as well as “part gunslinger, ward heeler, legal fixer, accomplice smuggler, anarchist, and toady."

While he had his critics (one author and art historian said he was a "perennial thorn in the side of the museum mafia"), many credit Hoving with breathing life back into the Met — including bringing the most popular exhibit in its history there (treasures from Egyptian King Tutankhamun's tomb). He also allowed people to eat on the steps, and NYMag notes that he's responsible for the colorful banners hanging down advertising the big exhibits. Former Met director Philippe de Montebello said, "I loved working for Tom. He was exhilarating, scintillating, brilliant."

The NY Times has a lengthy tribute to the man, who they quote as saying: “Great art should be shown with great excitement.” And in July, he said of his cancer diagnosis, "I'm a goner. But I have no regrets. I've had a terrific life."