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."
In "Company" (1970), Stritch played the acerbic Joanne, delivering a lacerating version of "The Ladies Who Lunch," a classic Sondheim song dissecting the modern Manhattan matron. Stritch originated the role in New York and then appeared in the London production.
Among her other notable Broadway appearances were as Grace, the owner of a small-town Kansas restaurant in William Inge's "Bus Stop" (1955), and as a harried cruise-ship social director in the Noel Coward musical "Sail Away" (1961). She also appeared in revivals of "Show Boat" (1994), in which she played the cantankerous Parthy Ann Hawks, and Edward Albee's "A Delicate Balance" (1996), portraying a tart-tongued, upper-crust alcoholic.
Each generation found her relevant and hip. She was parodied in 2010 on an episode of "The Simpsons" in which Lisa Simpson attends a fancy performing arts camp. One class was on making wallets with Elaine Stritch and Andrew Lloyd Webber. Stritch got a kick out of it. "That's worth being in the business for 150 years," she said with a laugh.