Thursday, December 25, 2008

Legendary performer Eartha Kitt dead at 81

Eartha Kitt, whose "Santa, Baby" remains the sultriest Christmas song ever recorded, died Thursday on a holiday she turned into something both naughty and nice.
Kitt, a versatile multi-media performer, engaging talk show regular and longtime human rights activist, was 81 and had been suffering from colon cancer.

Her publicist, Patty Freeman, said she died in New York with her daughter, Kitt Shapiro, at her side. Her last performance, a PBS special scheduled to air in February, was taped just six weeks ago.

Born on a cotton plantation in South Carolina, Kitt was sent to New York to be raised by a woman who was called her aunt, but whom she believed to be her mother. She started her career in the 1940s with Katharine Dunham's dance company and made her Broadway debut at 18.

Kitt starred as Helen of Troy in Orson Welles' 1950 staging of Christopher (Kit) Marlowe's "Dr. Faustus" and reportedly fell into a steamy affair with Welles, who called her "the most exciting woman in the world."

"Santa, Baby" secured her public image as a sex kitten and she followed with a string of slinky pop records through the 1950s, the biggest of which was "C'est Si Bon."
She conquered another medium in the 1960s when she took over the role of the sexy Catwoman in the TV hit "Batman."

But while Kitt enthusiastically worked the sex kitten image for half a century, she was also a serious activist who pushed for everything from voting rights to HIV/AIDS awareness programs.

In 1968, she drew a torrent of criticism for condemning the Vietnam War during a stage performance attended by President Lyndon Johnson's wife, Lady Bird.
Lady Bird Johnson's widely reported distress sparked a backlash that forced Kitt to take much of her career to Europe, where she was already popular.

She stayed visible in popular culture thanks to props like a Monty Python sketch in which a delusional character believes he is Leon Trotsky and then decides he's Eartha Kitt.
In 1978, she returned to Broadway to star in "Timbuktu!," where she purred a song about a recipe whose main ingredient was cannabis.

She wrote an autobiography, "Confessions of a Sex Kitten," in 1979 and, a few years later, became a big star in dance clubs.

In recent years, Kitt was a regular on the cabaret circuit, where she spoofed the sex kitten image with a reworked version of "C'est Si Bon."

"Santa, Baby," which was later recorded by Madonna, among many other artists, was certified gold a few weeks before Kitt's death.

1 comment:

coffee buzz said...

Eartha Kitt was and will continue to be a legend. I just found out that she starred in the Emperor's New Groove, how funny