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Obituary: Eartha Kitt

Obituary by Jack Foley

SINGER, dancer and actress Eartha Kitt has died at the age 81, following a battle against colon cancer.

The popular, and often controversial, artist passed away on Christmas Day (2008), according to her friend and publicist, Andrew Freedman.

Memorably described by the late, great Orson Welles as “the most exciting woman in the world”, Kitt was one of the few artists to be nominated for a Tony, Grammy and Emmy award and was a stalwart of the Manhattan cabaret scene.

As an actress, she is perhaps best known for her portrayal of Catwoman in the Batman television series of the ’60s, because of her distinctive, feline drawl, while as a singer, her numerous hit songs included Old Fashioned Girl, C’est Si Bon and Santa Baby.

Never one to shy away from controversy, Kitt was infamously blacklisted in America during the late ’60s when she spoke out against the Vietnam War at a White House function, and she also caused controversy for touring apartheid South Africa in 1974.

But she made a triumphant return to Broadway in the 1978 production of Timbuktu! and continued to perform regularly in theatre shows and concert halls.

Born on January 17, 1927, n the cotton fields of South Carolina, Kitt rose to the top from humble origins. Her mother, a cotton plantation worker in South Carolina, was just 14 when she gave birth and subsequently gave Kitt away at the age of eight to live with an aunt in New York.

Kitt developed an early taste for the arts, however, and got her break at the age of 16, when she got a job as a dancer with a professional troupe touring Europe.

Back in New York, she made her name in the New Faces of 1952 revue, when her performances, which ran for a year, led to a national tour and a follow up feature film with the same title.

Other film roles included St Louis Blues with Nat King Cole and Anna Lucasta alongside Sammy Davis.

Numerous awards nominations followed… with a Grammy nod received for her succession of best-selling records and a Tony nomination for her acting. She also completed a first volume of her autobiography Thursday’s Child.

Kitt will be remembered as a distinguished and charismatic performer who could lay claim to having worked in more than 100 countries.

From the 1980s onwards she appeared in numerous films and television shows because of her distinct voice and performance style. on Tv, she appeared in Miami Vice, while she was able to enthrall an entirely new generation of fans when she lent her services to the role of Yzma, the villain, in Disney hit The Emperor’s New Groove.

Kitt was married briefly, from 1960 to 1965, from which a daughter, Kitt McDonald, was born in 1961. She subsequently became her mother’s manager.

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