She is good friends with the consumer advocate Ralph Nader, and in 2015 attended the opening of Nader's American Museum of Tort Law in Winsted, Connecticut. Smith's father was a factory worker who admired Nader, and that admiration was passed down; when Nader ran for president in 2000, Smith performed at a rally to support him.
Smith had a long and intimate relationship with Robert Mapplethorpe, who became a renowned photographer famous for his provocative works. The two were lovers long before either was famous; when Mapplethorpe realized he was gay, they kept their bond in a platonic fashion. When Mapplethorpe was dying of AIDS in 1989, he asked Smith to tell their story. It took her 21 years, but she did, publishing their tale in the book Just Kids, released in 2010.
Her mother was very pragmatic, while her father was always searching for the meaning of life. Both were very nurturing to Smith and gave her the confidence she needed to succeed in her profession. She said in Esquire: "I had a very down-to-earth, compassionate mother and a head-in-the-clouds, searching father. It was like being raised by the earth and the sky."
A mainstay of the New York punk scene in the '70s, Smith resisted the urge to do drugs because she saw the harmful effects it had on those around her, and she didn't want anything disrupting her mind.
She was married to MC5 guitarist Fred "Sonic" Smith from 1980 until his death from a heart attack in 1994. They had two children together: a son Jackson (born 1982) and daughter Jesse (born 1987).
Her only hit was a song written by Bruce Springsteen: "Because The Night
." Smith was inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame in 2007 because of her contributions to the punk rock movement and for her outsized influence on other musicians and songwriters.
She was somewhat famous in the late '70s, but decided that the notoriety "didn't contribute to any evolution." Her later projects were designed with this evolution in mind, and not for the masses.