In Memoriam: Eartha Kitt

December 30, 2008

Sultry singer, dancer, and actress, Eartha Kitt died last week on Christmas Day, Thursday, December 25, 2008. She was 81 years-old.

Kitt died of colon cancer, for which she was being treated at Colombia Presbyterian Hospital in New York, her publicist and long time friend Andrew Freedman said. She had been diagnosed with cancer about two years ago and had been treated for it, but it returned during her remission. “She came back strongly. She had been performing until two months ago,” Freedman said. “We had dates booked through 2009.”

The cat-like, slinky Kitt used her seductive purr to mesmerize her audience. Actor-director Orson Welles once dubbed her “the most exciting woman alive.” During her lengthy career she won two Emmys, was nominated for a third, as well as a Grammy, and she was nominated for two Tony awards. Among her hit songs were “C’est Si Bon”, “Let’s Do It”, and “Just an Old Fashioned Girl”, along with the well loved “Santa Baby”. She recorded the Christmas hit in 1953, which went gold this year.

Kitt was born on a plantation in South Carolina in 1927. She moved in with her aunt in New York City, but unfortunately suffered from abuse and poverty, until she got her start with the Katherine Dunham Company. Her film debut began in 1948 with Casbah and on TV she was best known for her role as Catwoman in Batman. She was married in the 1960s to Bill McDonald a real estate agent and they had a daughter named Kitt.

Also in the 1960s she was blackballed for speaking out against the Vietnam War. Her most notorious act occurred at a White House luncheon in which she told the first lady, Lady Bird Johnson, and other guests that the war was killing the best and brightest Americans. This led to support by anti-war protesters and her inclusion on Richard Nixon’s “Enemies List”.

Her accolades include her nightclub act, which allowed the seductress to utilize her charisma 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.”

In an interview with The Times of London, she was asked about her approach to performing her act and she answered, 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.”

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