Eartha Kitt, 1927-2008: The Original Material Girl

The sultry chanteuse succumbed to colon cancer on a Dec. 25, a day her seasonal ode to seduction, Santa Baby, is played every year around the world

Central Press / Getty

Eartha Kitt in 1960

Something in a young chanteuse from South Carolina saw the genius in changing her name ever so slightly. Eartha Mae Keith became Eartha Kitt — discarding an ordinary surname for one of inspired felinity. It heralded the sex kitten who purred the lyrics to her lightly naughty hit singles of the early '50s; whose sophisticated persona in films and on Broadway barely concealed her claws; and who would achieve camp renown as the prowling, growling Catwoman on the '60s Batman TV series.

But Kitt's persevering through a life that began...

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