Kitt, Ertha: Sexy, Versatile Performer, Dies at 81

December 25, 2008–Ertha Kitt, the singer, dancer and actress who rose from South Carolina cotton fields to become an international symbol of elegance and sensuality, has died. She was 81.

Kitt died Thursday of colon cancer and was recently treated at Columbia Presbyterian Hospital in New York.

A self-proclaimed “sex kitten,” famous for her catlike purr, Kitt was a versatile performer, winning two Emmys and getting a third nomination. She also was nominated for two Tony Awards and a Grammy.  The director Orson Welles went on record, saying that Kitt was “the sexiest woman” he had ever met in his life. 

Born in North, South Carolina January 26, 1928, Kitt moved to Harlem at the age of 8, where she attended the High School of the Performing Arts and joined the Katherine Dunham Dance Company.

She lived in Paris for a while, after which she made her screen debut in 1954 with “New Faces,” based on her stage show.  One of her best known roles was as the lead in “Anna Lucasta” in 1959.

Her Broadway appearances include “Timbuktu,” ther balck-version of “Kismet,” in 1978, and then, after a long absence, the musical “The Wild Party” in 1999, for which she was Tony-nominated.

Kitt was the subject of a docu, “All By Myself,” and published several volumes of memoirs.  her last screen appearance was in the 1996 children’s adventure, “Harriet the Spy.”