Tue, Jul 01, 2003 - Page 16 News List

The passing of a Hollywood legend

In an acting career that spanned 60 years, Katharine Hepburn created a number of immortal roles and was an inspiration for millions of fans

AP , OLD SAYBROOK, CONNECTICUT

A publicity photo of Katharine Hepburn from 1940.

PHOTO: AFP

Katharine Hepburn, an icon of feminist strength and spirit who brought a chiseled beauty and patrician bearing to such films as The Philadelphia Story and The African Queen, has died. She was 96.

Hepburn died Sunday at 2:50pm (1850 GMT) Sunday at her home in Old Saybrook with family by her side, said Cynthia McFadden, a friend of Hepburn and executor of her estate. Hepburn, who had been in declining health in recent years, died of old age, McFadden said.

"Through her films generations to come will discover her humor, her grace, her keen intelligence," McFadden said in a statement from the family at a news conference near Hepburn's home, where the actor spent much of her childhood. "She was and always will be an American original. She died as she lived, with dignity and grace."

The lights will dim on Broadway at 8pm Tuesday (0000 GMT Wednesday) in her honor, said Patricia Armetta-Haubner, a spokeswoman for the League of American Theaters and Producers.

McFadden said that according to Hepburn's wishes, there will be no memorial service and burial will be private at a later date.

"I think every actress in the world looked up to her with a kind of reverence and a sense of `oh boy, if only I could be like her,'" actress Elizabeth Taylor said in a statement.

During her 60-year career, she won a record four Academy Awards and was nominated 12 times, which stood as a record in the acting categories until Meryl Streep surpassed her nomination total in 2003. Her Oscars were for Morning Glory, 1933; Guess Who's Coming to Dinner, 1967; The Lion in Winter, 1968; and On Golden Pond, 1981.

Despite her success, Hepburn always felt she could have done more.

"I could have accomplished three times what I've accomplished," she once said. "I haven't realized my full potential. It's disgusting."

But, she said, "Life's what's important. Walking, houses, family. Birth and pain and joy -- and then death. Acting's just waiting for the custard pie. That's all."

Hepburn, the product of a wealthy, freethinking New England family, was forthright in her opinions and unconventional in her conduct.

She dressed for comfort, usually in slacks and sweater, with her red hair caught up in a topknot. She married only once, briefly, and her name was linked to Howard Hughes and other famous men, but the great love of her life was Spencer Tracy. They made nine films together and remained close companions until Tracy's death in 1967.

Her Broadway role in Warrior's Husband brought a movie offer from RKO, and she went to Hollywood at US$1,500 a week to star opposite John Barrymore in the 1932 film A Bill of Divorcement. The lean, athletic actress with the well-bred manner became an instant star. The voice Tallulah Bankhead once likened to "nickels dropping in a slot machine" became one of Hollywood's most-imitated.

Hepburn's third movie, Morning Glory, brought her first Oscar. A string of parts followed -- Jo in Little Women, the ill-fated queen in Mary of Scotland, the rich would-be actress in Stage Door, the madcap socialite of Bringing Up Baby, the shy rich girl in Holiday.

A theater chain owner branded her and other stars "box-office poison" after several of Hepburn's roles received a cool reception from critics, and her film career waned.

Undaunted, Hepburn acquired the rights to a comedy about a spoiled heiress, and, after it was rewritten for her, took it to the New York stage. The Philadelphia Story was a hit.

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