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Elaine Stritch, brash stage legend, dies at 89 (w/video)

  • FILE - This Sept. 11, 2012 file photo shows actress Elaine Stritch posing for a photograph during the 2012 Toronto International Film Festival in Toronto. (Stritch died Thursday, July 17, 2014 at her home in Birmingham, Mich. She was 89. (AP Photo/The Canadian Press, Michelle Siu, File)

NEW YORK — Elaine Stritch, the brash theater performer whose gravelly, gin-laced voice and impeccable comic timing made her a Broadway legend, has died. She was 89.

A spokesman for Brigade Marketing, a publicity firm that represents Stritch, said the actress died Thursday of natural causes at her home in Birmingham, Michigan. Stritch moved to Michigan last year, bidding farewell to New York after 70 years as a tart-tongued monument to old-school show business endurance.

Although Stritch appeared in movies and on television, garnering three Emmys, she was best known for her stage work, particularly in her candid one-woman memoir, "Elaine Stritch: At Liberty," and in the Stephen Sondheim musical "Company."

She worked well into her late 80s, most recently as Madame Armfeldt in a revival of Sondheim's musical "A Little Night Music." She replaced Angela Lansbury in 2010 to critical acclaim.

In 2013, Stritch — whose signature "no pants" style was wearing a loose-fitting white shirt over sheer black tights — retired to Michigan after 71 years in New York City and made her final performance at the Carlyle Hotel "Elaine Stritch at the Carlyle: Movin' Over and Out." She said she suffered from diabetes, a broken hip and memory loss — all of which she nakedly documented in the film "Elaine Stritch: Shoot Me," a documentary released in February.

"It's going to be hard to turn my back on you guys, for a little while at least. But I have to. I've just got to take it easy," she told the crowd. "Wish me well and I'll do the same to you."

Stritch was a striking woman, with a quick wit, a shock of blond hair and great legs. She showed them off most elegantly in "At Liberty," wearing a loose fitting white shirt, high heels and black tights.

In the show, the actress told the story of her life — with all its ups, downs and in-betweens. She frankly discussed her stage fright, missed showbiz opportunities, alcoholism, battle with diabetes and love life, all interspersed with songs she often sang onstage.

"What's this all been about then — this existential problem in tights," Stritch said of herself at the end of the solo show, which opened off-Broadway in November 2001, transferred to Broadway the following February and later toured. It earned her a Tony Award in 2002 and an Emmy when it was later televised on HBO.

"I think I know what I have been doing up here tonight. I've been reclaiming a lot of my life that I wasn't honestly and truly there for," she said. "It almost all happened without me but I caught up."

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