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Actress Elaine Stritch, 'Her Own Greatest Character,' Dies At 89

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Actress Elaine Stritch, 'Her Own Greatest Character,' Dies At 89


Actress Elaine Stritch, 'Her Own Greatest Character,' Dies At 89

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  • <iframe src="" width="100%" height="290" frameborder="0" scrolling="no" title="NPR embedded audio player">
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One of Broadway's boldness and brassiest performers has died. Elaine Stritch died this morning of natural causes at her home in Birmingham, Michigan. She was 89. NPR's Elizabeth Blair has this appreciation.

ELIZABETH BLAIR, BYLINE: With her gravelly voice and long legs and utter command of the stage, Elaine Stritch was a bona fide Broadway star. Not as a classic leading lady but as the hardened, yet vulnerable performer you don't forget.


ELAINE STRITCH: (Singing) Here's to the ladies who lunch. Everybody laugh.

BLAIR: Writer-composer Stephen Sondheim apparently told Elaine Stritch that she turned what he thought was just a simple saloon song from the 1970 Broadway hit "Company" into a piece of theater.


STRITCH: (Singing) The ones who follow the rules and meet themselves at the schools, too busy to know that they're fools, aren't they a gem? I'll drink to them, let's all drink to them

BLAIR: in a career that stretched back to the 1940s, Elaine Stritch did it all, theater, TV, movies. She once understudied for Ethel Merman. Noel Coward wrote a play with her in mind. She was nominated for several Tony awards and won three Emmys. Stritch was born in Detroit, her father was a rubber company executive. She was raised Roman Catholic. When she first moved to New York City she went to finishing school at the Convent of the Sacred Heart. Years later Broadway producer Hal Prince said, Stritch had the guts of a jailbird but he went on, the content girl is still there.


STRITCH: (Singing) Zip. I consider Dali's painting passe. Zip. Can they make the Metropolitan pay?

BLAIR: It's been said that Elaine Stritch could always play older than she really was. She was only 20 when she sang Zip in "Pal Joey." But Stritch herself said she looked 40. Stritch had a terrific sense of humor about her looks and her age. In 1988 NPR's Susan Stamberg interviewed her when she starred in Woody Allen's movie "September."


SUSAN STAMBERG, BYLINE: The role you play in this movie is of - I hate to use this word but aging but it's true isn't it? Aging, I've read it two ways, aging...

STRITCH: Well, I don't mind that word at all. It applies to everybody. I mean I saw kids 16 on the street and he was aging.

STAMBERG: (Laughing) That's right.

STRITCH: I mean we're aging. But somehow the press loves to say it when you're over 40. It's almost like all the words are capital letters- she's plays an AGING Showgirl, socialite, whatever.

BLAIR: Elaine Stritch was also candid about personal struggles. Her alcoholism, her diabetes. She wrote about being diagnosed with the disease at the peak of her career. The diabetic she said, has to become intimately involved in treating it. But with her trademark wit she also said, diabetes is great because I can say my blood sugar is off, I have to go. When she was in her late 70s she launched a one-woman show called "Elaine Stritch At The Liberty."


STRITCH: Not long ago I was talking to Stephen Sondheim about his song, "I'm Still Here." I told him I had heard women in their 60s singing I'm still here. 50's even and a couple of times in their 40s. I'm still her- where have they been? I mean it's ridiculous. And so I told him that, not that he asked me or anything, but I told him that I would never touch that song until I was what 80 years old. But you know, it is such a great song. I'm not going to wait 20 years to sing it.


BLAIR: Elaine Stritch once said, I just pray that I can be at least amusing. Was she ever. Elizabeth Blair NPR News.

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