Eartha Kitt, the versatile US singer and actress who died on Thursday at 81, mesmerized audiences worldwide for over six decades with her sultry voice and sensuality on stage and screen.
Kitt, whose outspokenness was a mainstay of her career but also led to a self-imposed exile to Europe in the 1960s and 1970s after her stinging critique of the war in Vietnam, won two Emmy television awards and was nominated for two Tony awards and a pair of Grammys.
She was being treated for colon cancer at a New York hospital, her friend and publicist Andrew Freedman said.
“She was certainly a legendary performer and while I think there may have been many imitations, she was an original,” Freedman said.
She was one of the few artists nominated for Tony, Grammy and Emmy awards.
A self-described “sex kitten,” Kitt famously played the role of Catwoman in the US hit TV series Batman in the 1960s. Her feline purr and uncanny persona won her millions of fans, among them Hollywood’s Orson Welles, who called her “the most exciting woman in the world.”
She acted in movies as well, starring with Nat King Cole in St. Louis Blues (1958) and with Sydney Poitier in The Mark of the Hawk (1957).
“I do not have an act. I just do Eartha Kitt,” she told the British newspaper the Times in April. “I want to be whoever Eartha Kitt is until the gods take me wherever they take me.”
I Want to Be Evil and Santa Baby, still a Christmas favorite today, were among her bestselling songs.
She produced another hit in 1984 with the disco song Where is My Man.
Kitt rose to fame from humble origins as a mixed-race child who grew up in South Carolina’s cotton fields.
The performer spoke out about the rise of African-American artists.
“It’s time that people of color start to break into the area of being recognized for their work — not because of their color,” Kitt told a Washington Post online forum in 2005.