Legendary singer and actress Eartha Kitt passed away Christmas day from complications related to colon cancer. She was 81.

From HuffPo:

Eartha Kitt, a sultry singer, dancer and actress who rose from South Carolina cotton fields to become an international symbol of elegance and sensuality, has died, a family spokesman said. She was 81.

Andrew Freedman said Kitt, who was recently treated at Columbia Presbyterian Hospital, died Thursday in Connecticut of colon cancer.

Kitt, a self-proclaimed "sex kitten" famous for her catlike purr, was one of America's most versatile performers, winning two Emmys and nabbing a third nomination. She also was nominated for several Tonys and two Grammys.

Her career spanned six decades, from her start as a dancer with the famed Katherine Dunham troupe to cabarets and acting and singing on stage, in movies and on television. She persevered through an unhappy childhood as a mixed-race daughter of the South and made headlines in the 1960s for denouncing the Vietnam War during a visit to the White House.

Through the years, Kitt remained a picture of vitality and attracted fans less than half her age even as she neared 80.

Her first album, "RCA Victor Presents Eartha Kitt," came out in 1954, featuring such songs as "I Want to Be Evil," "C'est Si Bon" and the saucy gold digger's theme song "Santa Baby," which is revived on radio each Christmas.

The next year, the record company released the follow-up album "That Bad Eartha," which featured "Let's Do It," "Smoke Gets in Your Eyes" and "My Heart Belongs to Daddy."

In 1996, she was nominated for a Grammy in the category of traditional pop vocal performance for her album "Back in Business." She also had been nominated in the children's recording category for the 1969 record "Folk Tales of the Tribes of Africa."

Kitt also acted in movies, playing the lead female role opposite Nat King Cole in "St. Louis Blues" in 1958 and more recently appearing in "Boomerang" and "Harriet the Spy" in the 1990s.

On television, she was the sexy Catwoman on the popular "Batman" series in 1967-68, replacing Julie Newmar who originated the role. A guest appearance on an episode of "I Spy" brought Kitt an Emmy nomination in 1966.

"Generally the whole entertainment business now is bland," she said in a 1996 Associated Press interview. "It depends so much on gadgetry and flash now. You don't have to have talent to be in the business today.

"I think we had to have something to offer, if you wanted to be recognized as worth paying for."

Kitt was plainspoken about causes she believed in. Her anti-war comments at the White House came as she attended a White House luncheon hosted by Lady Bird Johnson.

"You send the best of this country off to be shot and maimed," she told the group of about 50 women. "They rebel in the street. They don't want to go to school because they're going to be snatched off from their mothers to be shot in Vietnam."

For four years afterward, Kitt performed almost exclusively overseas. She was investigated by the FBI and CIA, which allegedly found her to be foul-mouthed and promiscuous.

"The thing that hurts, that became anger, was when I realized that if you tell the truth _ in a country that says you're entitled to tell the truth _ you get your face slapped and you get put out of work," Kitt told Essence magazine two decades later.

In 1978, Kitt returned to Broadway in the musical "Timbuktu!" _ which brought her a Tony nomination _ and was invited back to the White House by President Jimmy Carter.

In 2000, Kitt earned another Tony nod for "The Wild Party." She played the fairy godmother in Rodgers and Hammerstein's "Cinderella" in 2002.

As recently as October 2003, she was on Broadway after replacing Chita Rivera in a revival of "Nine."

She also gained new fans as the voice of Yzma in the 2000 Disney animated feature "The Emperor's New Groove.'"

In an online discussion at Washingtonpost.com in March 2005, shortly after Jamie Foxx and Morgan Freeman won Oscars, she expressed satisfaction that black performers "have more of a chance now than we did then to play larger parts."

But she also said: "I don't carry myself as a black person but as a woman that belongs to everybody. After all, it's the general public that made (me) _ not any one particular group. So I don't think of myself as belonging to any particular group and never have."

Kitt was born in North, S.C., and her road to fame was the stuff of storybooks. In her autobiography, she wrote that her mother was black and Cherokee while her father was white, and she was left to live with relatives after her mother's new husband objected to taking in a mixed-race girl.

An aunt eventually brought her to live in New York, where she attended the High School of Performing Arts, later dropping out to take various odd jobs.

By chance, she dropped by an audition for the dance group run by Dunham, a pioneering African-American dancer. In 1946, Kitt was one of the Sans-Souci Singers in Dunham's Broadway production "Bal Negre."

Kitt's travels with the Dunham troupe landed her a gig in a Paris nightclub in the early 1950s. Kitt was spotted by Welles, who cast her in his Paris stage production of "Faust."

That led to a role in "New Faces of 1952," which featured such other stars-to-be as Carol Lawrence, Paul Lynde and, as a writer, Mel Brooks.

While traveling the world as a dancer and singer in the 1950s, Kitt learned to perform in nearly a dozen languages and, over time, added songs in French, Spanish and even Turkish to her repertoire.

"Usku Dara," a song Kitt said was taught to her by the wife of a Turkish admiral, was one of her first hits, though Kitt says her record company feared it too remote for American audiences to appreciate.

Song titles such as "I Want to be Evil" and "Just an Old Fashioned Girl" seem to reflect the paradoxes in Kitt's private life.

Over the years, Kitt had liaisons with wealthy men, including Revlon founder Charles Revson, who showered her with lavish gifts.

In 1960, she married Bill McDonald but divorced him after the birth of their daughter, Kitt.

While on stage, she was daringly sexy and always flirtatious. Offstage, however, Kitt described herself as shy and almost reclusive, remnants of feeling unwanted and unloved as a child. She referred to herself as "that little urchin cotton-picker from the South, Eartha Mae."

For years, Kitt was unsure of her birthplace or birth date. In 1997, a group of students at historically black Benedict College in Columbia, S.C., located her birth certificate, which verified her birth date as Jan. 17, 1927. Kitt had previously celebrated on Jan. 26.

The research into her background also showed Kitt was the daughter of a white man, a poor cotton farmer.

"I'm an orphan. But the public has adopted me and that has been my only family," she told the Post online. "The biggest family in the world is my fans."

___

AP Drama Writer Michael Kuchwara contributed to this report.

  • KAT

    R.I.P. Eartha :(

  • SlimA

    I loved her style. R.I.P Kitt.

  • Kymystry

    I lovedddd Eartha Kitt ... Marrrrrrrrrrrrrrrcus Dahhhhhhlink

    RIP .. she was WAY ahead of her time ...

  • http://myspace.com/iyonah iyonah

    May she rest in peace, thanks for this detailed post Sandra.

  • MRSJONESK

    Man, Eartha Kitt? I loved her in Boomerang and she also played on an episode of Living Single. She was a great woman. R.I.P!

  • missmiami

    She was gorgeous and had an excellent stage presence. Wonderful and classy woman! She'll be missed and a few of our young black celebrities could learn a lot from her.

  • http://myspace.com/eastpointvet eastpointvet

    sad to hear and i just watched boomerang tuesday

  • http://myspace.com/erikamagaly Hermosa

    Why we gotta come and hear bad news? So sad! I agree with Kymmy, she was before her time!

  • jazi65

    She was such a classy lady.

  • Ielon

    RIP to the real Catwomen
    @ East i too just watched Boomerang last weekend..

  • teecee

    i read that last night.

    that was sad, you know family celebrations are never the same when some dies during the holiday.

    i wonder do they need me to bring over some KFC and 2 pepsi colas, im from the country that what we do at funerals.

  • Ielon

    @ teecee...
    I had a friend from North Carolina and when my cousin had past she brought over some chicken and Coke. I looked at her kinda crazy because that’s not how we did it in the Midwest…I thought that was crazy I never said anything to her but now reading this by you I guess that is how ya’ll get down…

  • Kymystry

    Hush Ielon ... U betta ask somebody .. all sheltered out there in Colo... lawd .. thats why Black folk need a trip to the SOUFF from time to time ... (and I'M a born and rasied Yankee from NJ) ... lol

  • teecee

    yup thats what we do in NC. then the church mother feed you in the dining hall after service.

  • iscream

    May she find glory in a world we will all know one day. God Rest her soul...

    This story brought chills to my bones and tears to my eyes. I hope they do a story on her life....

    (In my best KiKi Sheppard voice).
    Eartha Kitt a true Apollo legend.

  • goat76

    What up peoples........More of ya'll checked in than I thought it would be.......Hope everybody enjoyed their Holidays and was safe in the process...

    RIP Eartha......

  • goat76

    Teecee..........That's bout how we get down..........

  • keely107

    Damn, that was an interesting story, didnt know she had all that history behind her! RIP.

  • keely107

    @Goat:

    Thanks for the shout, I really did enjoy mines, ate good, drank good, and watched them kids go crazy!

  • goat76

    @keely107.............I ate good too.........was full and sleepy the rest of the day.......

    Glad to see you enjoy yourself.....I'll go watch my nephew's concert(Rock Band/Guitar Hero) this afternoon...

  • Kymystry

    Hey Keely ... hey Goat ... teecee ...Ielon ... Hermosa ..

    ___________ <<<---- Your Name here .. HEY !!

  • teecee

    hey kymo !! yep goat, if nobody brings food to your house at the time of a funeral there is a problem.

    if you knew the family well, or was really good friends they give u a pinch of money ! lol

  • Anna

    Ielon Says:

    @ teecee…
    I had a friend from North Carolina and when my cousin had past she brought over some chicken and Coke. I looked at her kinda crazy because that’s not how we did it in the Midwest…I thought that was crazy I never said anything to her but now reading this by you I guess that is how ya’ll get down…
    ~~~~~~~~~~~~~
    I am from the Midwest, when my mom passed away over 30 yrs. ago we had ppl bring over KFC and Pepsi. Now I have found after attending a funeral the food is actually catered.
    RIP Ms. Kitt, she was like Tina Turner, they don't age. Black really does not crack.
    I hope everyone had a great Christmas. I know I was pleasantly surprised with what Santa got me.

  • keely107

    Kym u at work?? How was ur holiday?

    @Goat: Lawrd! U got a concert to go to? These kids went crazy on that guitar hero didnt they? Man parents were in the stor bout to fight over it, the whole 9!

  • teecee

    @ anna... catered by who ? thats something new going on....

    in the south that what the mothers board or deaconess do at the church after the funeral...they call it the repast....

    now here in nc we you find out a person pass, you stop by kfc get a box chicken 2 sodas and you drop by the host house, go in speak and if they are close to you, u give them like 20 or 50 bucks to help out in a symphony card. i know that most families buy new clothes for the deceased and flowers which are expensive !!! i know 15 yrs ago @ my gmas a small flower thingy cost 27.00, and yes i did bring it back home... i bought a regular flower plant from wal mart for 15.00 about fives ago for a newphew funeral.

  • buttercup24

    Wow. R.I.P

  • pointhimout

    comical. for us 40 and under (i'm way under, by the way), we'll most remember her from Boomerang.

    "I dont have any panties on."

  • goat76

    @pointhimout........Im under 40 by 8 years.........she might be the reason why I luv older women(cougar bait).....or was it the female from my first semester in Jr college........What year did Boomerang come out.....

  • goat76

    Well Eartha is the reason I luv older women......Boomerang came out in 92......I graduated H.S. in 94....