NEW YORK (AP) - 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 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.
When her book "Rejuvenate," a guide to staying physically fit,
was published in 2001, Kitt was featured on the cover in a long,
curve-hugging black dress with a figure that some 20-year-old women
would envy. Kitt also wrote three autobiographies.
Once dubbed the "most exciting woman in the world" by Orson
Welles, she spent much of her life single, though brief romances
with the rich and famous peppered her younger years.
After becoming a hit singing "Montonous" in the Broadway revue
"New Faces of 1952," Kitt appeared in "Mrs. Patterson" in
1954-55. (Some references say she earned a Tony nomination for
"Mrs. Patterson," but only winners were publicly announced at
that time.) She also made appearances in "Shinbone Alley" and
"The Owl and the Pussycat."
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 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
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
"I think we had to have something to offer, if you wanted to be
recognized as worth paying for."