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Eartha Kitt Dies at 81

Eartha Kitt, the singer and actress best known for the sultry “Santa Baby,” died on Christmas day following a battle with colon cancer. She was 81.

Kitt, whose career lasted six decades and spanned film, stage, recordings and TV-she had a high-profile role in the ’60s as the Catwoman on Batman-was being treated at Columbia Presbyterian Hospital in New York at the time of her death on Dec. 25.

Born on a South Carolina cotton plantation in 1927, she moved to Harlem at age 8 and began her career at 18 when she landed a role on Broadway in Katharine Dunham’s dance company. In 1950, while working in Paris, she met director Orson Welles, who cast her as Helen of Troy in his stage production Time Runs.

Kitt returned to New York in the early ’50s and began making nightclub appearances, which led to a recording deal with RCA Victor. “Santa Baby,” recorded in 1953, cemented a “bad girl” image for Kitt that she capitalized on; the recording continues to enjoy holiday airplay to this day.

Kitt at times courted controversy, particularly in 1968 when she criticized the Vietnam War at a White House function. President Lyndon Johnson was reportedly so incensed that he used his power to initiate a blacklisting of Kitt. Investigated by the FBI and dogged by the Secret Service, Kitt moved to Europe, where she remained until 1978. In the ’80s, she revitalized her film and cabaret career. She also continued to record, for various labels, until the end of her career.

Originally Published