Actress, dancer Cyd Charisse dead at 86

Tue Jun 17, 2008 8:20pm EDT
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By Steve Gorman

LOS ANGELES (Reuters) - Actress and dancer Cyd Charisse, the impossibly long-legged movie musical star who gained fame for her on-screen pairings with Hollywood dance greats Fred Astaire and Gene Kelly, died on Tuesday at age 86.

Charisse, a sinuous, athletic performer once described by Astaire as "beautiful dynamite," died early in the morning of a heart attack at a Los Angeles-area hospital, according to her agent, Scott Stander.

Publicist Gene Schwam said she had only recently celebrated her 60th wedding anniversary with her second husband, singer Tony Martin, whom she married after a romance with millionaire Howard Hughes.

"What was special about Cyd was that she was always stylish and graceful, and when I saw her two weeks ago, she was still dressed beautifully and her hair was done properly," Schwam told Reuters. "She was such a loving and gracious woman throughout her life."

Born Tula Ellice Finklea in Amarillo, Texas, she took her professional surname from her first husband, ballet instructor Nico Charisse. The moniker of Cyd was adapted from a childhood nickname, Sid, coined by her brother.

Joining the Ballet Russe as a teenager in the mid-1930s, she broke into movies in 1943 dancing opposite Don Ameche in "Something to Shout About," billed then as Lily Norwood.

That appearance led to a long-term contract with Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer, where she first danced with Astaire in a brief routine in "Ziegfeld Follies" and made her film acting debut with Judy Garland in "The Harvey Girls," both released in 1946.

But Charisse cemented her status as an MGM star as Kelly's dance partner in their provocatively memorable "Broadway Melody Ballet" routine in the finale to the 1952 classic "Singin' in the Rain."   Continued...

<p>Actress Cyd Charisse poses for photographers during a reception at the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences to screen the re-mastered digital presentation of the 1974 film, "That's Entertainment," in Beverly Hills, California in this September 17, 2004 file photo. Charisse, 86, died in Los Angeles on June 17, 2008, her spokesman Gene Schwam said. REUTERS/Jeff Mitchell /Files</p>