RIP, Eartha Kitt

Man. I planned to do a special Afrobella Christmas post, and the day got swept away in a whirlwind of gifts and family phone calls. But I read this news and it knocked the wind out of my sails. The legendary Eartha Kitt has passed away at the age of 81, succumbing to a long battle with colon cancer.

In her heyday, Eartha Kitt was a force of nature, a unique musical presence, the ultimate sex kitten. And behind the slinky, cartoonish persona and the unique voice, she was a human rights activist who was unafraid of speaking truth to power. The Washington Post has a phenomenal obit that tells of an expensive lunch with Kitt that must have been one of the most magnificent and surreal moments in that reporter’s life.

I wrote a tribute to Eartha in 2006, as part of my Beautifully Aging Bellas series. I said then, “It’s easy to get caught up in the fantastic cartoonishness of Eartha, and forget how ridiculously talented she is.” Eartha Kitt embraced her image. She owned her image. But I hope this clip of her performing the definitive version of Santa, Baby, shines a brighter light on her talent. She was a unique and amazing singer with a delivery that’s hard to match.

Eartha’s version of C’est Si Bon was both a send-up and a celebration of her sex kitten image. I absolutely love it. Check out how effortlessly fly and self-possessed she is.

True story – I’ve been trying to perfect that purr for years. I can’t even roll my r’s. Pathetic. But Eartha made it look so easy.

This clip of her performing I Want To Be Evil is one of my very favorites, for its sheer intensity. Eartha gave raw emotion in every performance. She was of that era of performers who gave good face, as they say — strong actresses like Gloria Swanson, Bette Davis, Joan Crawford. Eartha proves she could stand toe to toe with the best of them in just the performance of this song.

Beautiful, brave, funny, and fierce — Eartha Kitt was an inspiration to me and many an afrobella. To say she’ll be missed is an understatement. And to lose a legend like her on Christmas Day makes for a bittersweet holiday indeed.

Batman? Boomerang? Or one of her memorable songs – share your favorite Eartha Kitt moment with me!

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Comments

  1. I absolutely LOVED Eartha Kitt in Batman. It was one of my favorite shows growing up.

    But the ultimate Eartha Kitt moment for me was being able to see her in the national tour of Timbuktu. Musicals are a very guilty pleasure of mine thanks to my mom exposing me and my sister to this art when we were young.

    She was magnificent in Timbuktu. And I will always remember her staying “stirring with a long wooden spoon” while rolling her r’s. It’s a memory I will never forget.

    Thanks Ms. Kitt for enriching our lives.

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  3. No no no! I wanted to see her acting again. She was so amazing! This is so sad!

  4. Oh I loved Eartha Kitt! I read her 3rd autobiography and always admired her for surviving and thriving no matter what! Nobody can roll Rs like she does! I did a tribute as well.

  5. Hillary Walker says:

    Link to 2006 post?

  6. She is truly irreplaceable. There is no “young Eartha Kitt” today – a multi-lingual singer, dancer and actress who can handle the live stage, television and film.

    We have lost a tremendous legend.

  7. I was sadden to hear of her death as well. I told my sisters that I hope I look that good when I’m her age, she was gorgeous. There will never be another.
    R.I.P. Lady Kitt.

  8. She was amazing, and there will never be anyone else like her.

  9. My mom and I love her so much. When I was six I got to meet her. I use to watch her on Batman all the time. So to see her in the flesh then was so wonderful. She was so sweet to me. My mom has seen her many times in concert and plays. Growing up she always played her music. We both saw her on Broadway on twice. Seriously, I feel as if someone I know personally has passed on. I love Eartha. I’ll miss her deeply

  10. Eartha Kitt was indeed a legend. I’m not fond of the Washington Post’s categorization of black women according to size and skin colour. It may be true to the times(and even now) but it doesn’t sit well with me today.

  11. Eartha Kitt was on the Tom Joyner morning show not that long ago.
    When asked how she stayed so good looking she said ” I mind my own business” maybe it was that and good genes, but it made me want to mind mine.
    I’m still in shock. She was so iconic.

  12. R.I.P Eartha

  13. Talk about creative crafts…years ago I bought at an art fair a light switch plate with a picture of a young Eartha Kitt on it. It has been sitting in the living room of my newly rented house waiting for me to do something with it. I think I will mount it when I get back home.

    And while I agree with zen that she was a unique presence, Nichelle brings up a good point…who today can do what Eartha Kitt did AND do it with a truly unique style? Maybe it’s my age, but so many of today’s young stars seem SO industry-processed.

  14. Loved Ms. Kitt in Boomerang-though she was played for laughs, she was hot.

  15. Wow…what is so funny is that I’d been actually mixing up her perfomance of Santa Baby with Marilyn Monroe’s. It took hearing it again the on Christmas Eve for me to realize that the one I loved was indeed Eartha’s.

    Yes, her appearance in Boomerang is a funny memory of mine. Her purring to Eddie, “Marrrrrrrcus…I’m not wearing any panties” is so deliciously funny. Me and the ex laughed about that for days after seeing it for the 50-11th time each.

    Rest In Peace, Ms Kitt! *a kiss on each cheek*

  16. maaaaaaaarrrrrrrrrrrrraccccccccuuuuuuuuuusssssssssss
    ddddddddddaaaaaaaaaaaaaarrrrrrrrrllllllllliiiiiiinnnnnnnnggggggggggg

    her purr was unreal. it was the sexiest thing i’ve ever heard… and i’m all about the fellas. ; )

    she was a unique presence, one who will always be remembered.

    i loved her version of santa baby.

  17. Segment on Sixty Minutes with her jogging around a pond on her property with her dogs. She just looked plain happy, grateful and at peace. RIP chick. You left a template.

  18. I loved Eartha Kitt and was greatly saddened by the news of her death. I loved her as CatWoman on Batman. I’ve watched her and listened to her songs ever since. I love Santa Baby, ChaCha Heels, I Love Men and I want to be Evil just to name a few. She was a wonderful entertainer, actress and woman. It’s like the end of a Golden Era. Thank you for this wonderful tribute to her.
    Mozelle

  19. I was fortunate to see her perform up close and personal at the Guthrie in the early 90′s. She spent half of the show making googoo eyes at my date. That boy was on cloud 9 for at least a week!

    She was the only thing memorable in Cinderella with Debbie Gibson. Such awe-inspiring talent and a class act.

    What a blessing to have had such a legend walk the earth in my time. Rrrrr-I-P, Miss Kitt!

  20. a fascinating woman… great post.

  21. A phenomenal woman to her very core.
    I love when God blesses us with talented, beautiful, classy women. I know she will be missed.

  22. She was a true legend.

    I agree with Nichelle. She will be missed.

  23. I’ve always found her storied life fascinating, and she was a singular, irreplacable star. She owns “C’est Si Bon” (imagine seeing that LIVE!), and I like others have said, her “Santa Baby” is definitive. In her prime she was that wonderful mix of grown playfulness sexiness– a “minx” in the best sense of the word. And her later work was non-too shabby. I know “Boomerang” was great fun, but even her voice alone in the animated “Emperor’s New Groove” was a fabulous performance, and one of my faves. She had more talent in her pinky than most of these chicas today have in their whole bodies. RIP Eartha.

  24. A truly remarkable lady, who will be sorely missed. I love the the vulnerable, but joyful way she sang ‘Bal petite bal’.

  25. Eartha brought class to a very sexy image.

  26. I think we will all miss Eartha Kitt and her amazing talents.
    This is yet another sad reminder of the importance of getting screened for colon cancer. It’s quick, easy, less painful than going to the dentist and can save your life.

  27. Indisputable …..Eartha Kitt

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