Eartha Kitt - actress, singer and cabaret star has died aged 81

Actress, singer and cabaret star, Eartha Kitt died at the age of 81.

Friend and publicist Andrew Freedman said Kitt died in New York on 25 December 2008 as a result of colon cancer which she had been fighting for the last 12 months.

The woman who Orson Welles described as �the most exciting woman in the world,� was a talented singer with a distinctive voice. Her hits include 'Let's Do It', 'C'est si bon', 'Love for Sale', 'Santa Baby' and many more.

She was first noticed as an actress when she was cast as 'Helen of Troy' (her first starring role) in the 1950 Paris production of Orson Welles 'Time Runs,' for which she received critical acclaim. She followed this up with a noted performance on Broadway in the musical revue 'Leonard Sillman's New Faces of 1952.'

As well as acting on stage and film, she became a recognised recording artist as well as a cabaret entertainer.

In the 60's she shot to fame as 'Catwoman' in the 1960's TV series 'Batman,' for which she forever became known as the 'sexy kitten.'

Kitt actively opposed segregation, and refused to perform in front of segregated audiances, and included that requirement in her contract. Her willingness to stand up for causes she belived in damaged her career when she spoke out against the Vietnam War at a White House luncheon in 1968. She was blackballed for her outspoken anti-war stance, and work dried up as contracts were cancelled.

She went into self-imposed exile for ten years, struggling to support herself in Europe. In later years when asked about this, Kitt said she would have spoken out against the Vietnam War even if she had known the effects it would have on her career.

She caused further controversy when she performed in South Africa in 1974. She defended her decision by saying she hoped her performance before an integrated audience in that country would help bring apartheid to the world's attention.

Her career resumed when Kitt starred as 'Shaleem-La-Lume' in the Broadway production of 'Timbuktu!' (1978), for which she received her first Tony nomination. She was nominated for a second Tony for her role as 'Dolores' in 'The Wild Party' (2000). Her last appearance on Broadway was in 'Nine' (Liliane La Fleur - Replacement: 2003 revival).

In the 80's she recorded a number of disco records, including 'Where Is My Man,' which found her new fame in the US and UK pop charts, and she gained a male gay following as she performed in nightclubs across America and the UK. Kitt responded to her new fans by giving benefit performances in support of HIV/AIDS charities.

She last appeared on a New York stage when she co-starred in the Off-Broadway musical 'Mimi le Duck' which played at New World Stages from Oct - Dec 2006. In 2007 she played a successful six week engagement at the famous cabaret Caf� Carlyle.

Kitt was born in poverty to a 14 year old mother who worked on a cotton plantation in the town of 'North,' South Carolina in 1927. Being of mixed race parents, her father was white, she faced discrimination from the American African community because of her light skin colour, and from causcasian American's because she was black. However, her unique voice, large personality, and a determination to succeed despite the odds, caused her to reach stardom and success as an entertainer.

As someone who knew poverty and prejudice in the early part of her life, Kitt became a willing friend and a much loved star, initally to African Americans, and later to the gay community.

Originally published on

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