Eartha Kitt, the sultry singer, dancer and actress who rose from South Carolina cotton fields to become an international symbol of elegance and sensuality, has died.
Family friend Andrew Freedman said Kitt, 81, died of colon cancer. She was recently treated at Columbia Presbyterian Hospital in New York.
Kitt, a self-proclaimed ‘sex kitten’ famous for her catlike purr, was one of America’s most versatile performers, winning two Emmys and 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 starred as Catwoman in the original Batman TV series in the 1960s.
She persevered through an unhappy childhood as a mixed-race daughter of the southern US 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. She 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.