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December 26, 2008

Singer Eartha Kitt Dies at 81

Written by
cindy mcleod

music obituaries

Eartha Kitt

Eartha Kitt
1927 – 2008

Sultry Artist Known for Her Feline Mannerisms

Singer, dancer and actress Eartha Kitt has died on Thursday at the age of 81, succumbing to colon cancer for which she was recently treated at Columbia Presbyterian Hospital in New York.

Kitt had been diagnosed with cancer about two years ago but after treatment she came back strongly, performing up until about two months ago and with dates booked into 2009.

Rising from cotton fields of the deep South, Eartha Kitt became known for her slinky, cat-like performances and seductive “purr,” making her one of America’s first African-American sex symbols.

During her long career, Kitt picked up a Grammy, two Emmys and a nomination for a third, as well as two Tony nominations, one of a few artists nominated in all three Awards. She received a star on the Hollywood walk of fame in 1960.

Kitt’s many hit songs included C’est Si Bon, Let’s Do It , Just an Old Fashioned Girl and perhaps her most recognized hit, Santa Baby (1953), which went gold this year.

Born to a black-Indian mother and a white father on a plantation in South Carolina in 1927, Kitt often spoke of a tough childhood and being harassed for her light skin. She was sent to live with an aunt in New York City, where she got her start as a member of the Katherine Dunham Company and made her film debut in Casbah (1948.

Orson Welles gave her her first starring role in 1950, as Helen of Troy in his staging of Dr. Faustus. The pair were later said to have had an affair during her run in Shinbone Alley, Welles being quoted as saying Kitts was “the most exciting woman in the world.”

Cast in the revue “New Faces of 1952,” later released on film by 20th Century Fox, she introduced two songs with which she continues to be identified, Monotonous and Bal, Petit Bal. In 1958, Kitt made her feature film debut opposite Sidney Poitier in “The Mark of the Hawk.” For the next 20 years, Kitt worked in film, television and nightclubs, and in 1967, was cast in the role of Catwoman for the television series Batman.

At the height of her popularity in the ’60s, Kitt was blackballed in America for speaking out against the Vietnam War during a White House luncheon in the company of first lady Lady Bird Johnson. She spent the next several years performing in Europe, eventually returning to the United States to great acclaim.

Eartha Kitt was married in the 1960s to real estate developer Bill McDonald, with whom she had a daughter, Kitt. She also was known for her relationships with Welles, cosmetics mogul Charles Revson and Arthur Leows Jr. of the U.S. movie theatre chain.

for more info visit www.earthakitt.com

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