Wednesday, December 31, 2008

Eartha Kitt, who rose from the Southern cotton
fields to captivate audiences around the world with sultry
performances as a singer, dancer and actress, died on Christmas Day, 25 December 2008 at the age of 81.

Kitt died of colon cancer for which she was recently treated at
Columbia Presbyterian Hospital in New York, said Andrew Freedman, a
long-time friend and publicist.

The cancer was detected about two years ago and treated but recurred
after a period of remission.

"She came back strongly. She had been performing until two months
ago," Freedman told Reuters by telephone from Los Angles. "We had
dates booked through 2009."

Slinky, sensuous and cat-like, Kitt described herself as a "sex
and used her seductive purr to charm audiences across the

Actor-director Orson Welles once called Kitt "the most exciting woman
and, along with Lena Horne, she was one of the first
African-American sex symbols.

Kitt picked up a string of awards during her long career, winning two
Emmys and being nominated for a third, as well as a Grammy. She also
had two Tony nominations.

Her hit songs included "C'est Si Bon," "Let's Do It" and "Just an Old
Fashioned Girl." She also was widely associated with Christmas because
of her hit "Santa Baby." The song, recorded in 1953, went gold this
year and she received the gold record before she died, Freedman said.

Despite those accolades, Kitt may have been at her best in her
nightclub act, which allowed her to use her feline, seductive manner
to its fullest.

"She loved cabaret performances," Freedman said. "If there was ever an
opportunity to do a small intimate venue with about 150 people, that
was always her preference."


Kitt was blackballed in America for speaking out against the Vietnam
War in the 1960s
-- most notoriously at a White House luncheon in the
company of first lady Lady Bird Johnson. "You send the best of this country off to be shot and maimed, 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." Sound like
you heard that on CNN last week? No, that was Eartha at the White House
luncheon. Eartha took her act to Europe while being investigated for
almost half a decade by the FBI and CIA who found her " foul mouthed
and promiscuous."

Kitt then began performing in
Europe, where she had been popular early in her career, and eventually
returned to the United States to great acclaim.

"She was never one to look back on her life," Freedman said. "She was
a true individual who believed that if you had a true belief in
yourself, your talent was authentic."

"My greatest challenge was to be able to survive in the business and
to be able to survive according to what I was doing. Not what other
people were doing," Kitt told Reuters in a 2005 television interview
at the Newport, Rhode Island jazz festival.

"I just stuck to my own guns and I think that was one of the way's I
have survived. The audience is not supposed to know that I'm scared,
the shyest person in the world.
Kitt was born to a black-Indian mother and a white father on a
plantation in South Carolina in 1927. She once described herself as
"that little urchin cotton picker from the South, Eartha Mae" and
often spoke of a tough childhood in the impoverished segregated South.
She was often harassed for being light-skinned before being sent to
live with an aunt in New York City.

But Kitt's life in New York also was marred by abuse and poverty until
she got her start as a member of the Katherine Dunham Company and made
her film debut in "Casbah" in 1948. On television she was perhaps best
known for her role as the sexy Catwoman in the 1960s TV series

In an interview with The Times of London in April Kitt described her
approach to performing by saying: "I do not have an act. I just do
Eartha Kitt ... I want to be whoever Eartha Kitt is until the gods
take me wherever they take me."

She was married in the 1960s to real estate developer Bill McDonald
and they had a daughter, named Kitt.

She also was known for her
relationships with Welles, cosmetics mogul Charles Revson and Arthur
Leows Jr. of the U.S. movie theater chain.



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