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Elaine Stritch performs “I’m Still Here” from 2010’s “A Broadway Celebration: In Performance at the White House,” a PBS music special that was held in the East Room of the White House.
Cabaret legend and Broadway mainstay Elaine Stritch died in her Michigan home Thursday from natural causes, her publicist confirmed. The brassy performer was 89.
Suffering from diabetes-related fatigue and a series of falls that left her wheelchair bound, Stritch’s health had been failing the last few years. Stritch moved back to her home state in Birmingham, Michigan in 2013 after living in Room 309 of New York’s Carlyle Hotel for 15 years, a decision that did not leave the show business legend in high spirits.
Elaine Stritch in her dressing room at the Savoy Theatre, London in 1973. Photo by Allan Warren via Wikimedia Commons
Losing none of her trademark candidness into her golden years, Stritch told Vanity Fair in June 2013, “I’m as unhappy as anybody can be.”
But as open as Stritch was, there was always room for humor. Whether it was her impeccable comic timing, salty words or her insistence on calling talk show host David Letterman a “pool boy,” Stritch — donning an oversize white button-down shirt and black stockings, a career uniform — knew how to draw the biggest laughs from an audience.
“Off stage, she was known for giving any man a run for his money, whether at drinking, swearing or speaking her mind,” Playbill wrote.
Known for a legacy that spanned seven decades, including stints on several television shows and films, the husky-voiced actress was meant for the stage. She made her New York stage debut in 1944, starring in the children’s play “Bobino,” and was Ethel Merman’s understudy in the 1950’s “Call Me Madam.”
Her breakout role was in William Inge’s 1955 play “Bus Stop,” for which she earned the first of her five Tony nominations. Other highlights include roles in Noel Coward’s 1961 musical “Sail Away” and Stephen Sondheim’s 1970 musical “Company,” which is known for her immortal “The Ladies Who Lunch” — a biting anthem of wealthy socialites that became Stritch’s signature tune.
Elaine Stritch performs “The Ladies Who Lunch,” from Stephen Sondheim’s “Company.”
Stritch also won three Emmys, including one in 2008 for her role on NBC’s “30 Rock” as Jack Donaghy’s overbearing mother.
In 2002 at age 70, she won her only Tony for her one-woman show “Elaine Stritch: At Liberty,” a tour through Stritch’s life on and off the stage, including anecdotes about her struggles with alcoholism, which began, Stritch said, when her father offered her a swig of a whiskey sour.
Although she was able to quit drinking in her 60s, Stritch returned to alcohol late in life. She told The New York Times Magazine earlier this year, “I’m almost 89, I’m gonna have a drink a day or two. I know how to handle it, so there. I’m proud of the fact that I can handle a couple of drinks.”
We’ll drink to that.
Joshua Barajas is the arts editor for the NewsHour. He can be reached at email@example.com.
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