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Famed Singer Eartha Kitt Dies of Cancer at Age 81

Entertainer Eartha Kitt gained international celebrity for her sultry and elegant style before dying of colon cancer at age 81 on Christmas Day. Kitt recently spoke with Gwen Ifill for a PBS special.

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    Finally tonight, the incomparable Eartha Kitt, who died yesterday of colon cancer. Gwen Ifill interviewed her in September before a live audience in Chicago. She talked about her life in show business and what first attracted her to the stage. Here is an excerpt.

  • EARTHA KITT, entertainer:

    I don't think I ever really got interested in theater. I was always interested in trying to communicate, to have a feeling from someone to make me feel that I was worthwhile.

    So when my teacher, Mrs. Bishop — I will never forget her, beautiful, brown-skinned lady at P.S. 136 in Harlem — she gave me a poem because she realized I was having a problem with myself. And I never talked, because I never wanted to attract attention. And maybe that's why I talk so much as I do today.


    You made up for it.


    I'm making up for it.

    And this poem, I had no idea what it was all about, but I learned it. And I went down to the New York School of Performing Arts, where she had sent me, because it was the beginning of a drama department in that school.

    And I think it was because she wanted me to come out and started to express myself. And, Gwen, I stood in front of that class and I said that poem.


    You did?


    I was scared to death. I had no idea how it was affecting people. But when everybody became so quiet, the kids were watching me as though they were hanging on to every word, which made me even more scared than I was before.

    And I won that scholarship to get into that drama department, and that's how I — and then she was the one that bought me theater tickets. I had never been to a theater before. I went to the Apollo Theater, yes, but not a legitimate theater on Broadway. I knew nothing about that.

    But she bought me a ticket to go to see Jose Ferrer in "Cyrano de Bergerac."


    Nice way to start.


    And, Gwen, when I saw this play, and saw and felt the affection that the people were giving him, and the people of the cast, I had a feeling inside of myself that maybe that's how I can get people to want me.