Blond beauty was comic actress, pitchwoman

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Edie Adams, who won a Tony for bringing Daisy Mae to life on Broadway and who played the television foil to her husband, comedian Ernie Kovacs, died Wednesday from pneumonia and cancer. She was 81.

For nearly two decades, Adams also served as the sexy spokeswoman for Muriel cigars, singing and breathily cooing in TV commercials: "Why don't you pick one up and smoke it sometime?"

Kovacs noticed Adams when she appeared on TV's "Arthur Godfrey's Talent Scouts," and she soon joined "The Ernie Kovacs Show," which became the darling of critics and discriminating viewers.

Adams soon found success on Broadway as well. She gained acclaim for her role as the sister to Rosalind Russell's character in the 1953 "Wonderful Town," then won a Tony four years later for best featured (supporting) actress in a musical for her turn as Daisy Mae in "Li'l Abner," based on Al Capp's comic strip.

In Billy Wilder's "The Apartment," the 1960 Oscar winner for best picture, Adams played the spurned secretary to the philandering Fred MacMurray.

Among her other movies were "Lover Come Back" (1961), "Call Me Bwana (1963)," "It's a Mad, Mad, Mad, Mad World" (1963) and "The Honey Pot" (1967).

In early 1962, Kovacs left a star-filled baby shower for Milton Berle's wife and crashed his car into a light pole, dying instantly. He left her with huge debts and trouble with the IRS.

During a career that spanned six decades, Adams also appeared in various stage productions; had a TV show in 1963 that earned her two Emmy noms; performed in nightclubs; and released several albums.

In the 1980s and '90s, she made appearances on such TV shows as "Murder, She Wrote" and "Designing Women." She also played Tommy Chong's mother in Cheech and Chong's "Up in Smoke" (1978).

Bob Thomas is a writer for the Associated Press.
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