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Cyd Charisse, the long-legged Texas beauty who danced with the Ballet Russe as a teenager and starred in MGM musicals with Fred Astaire and Gene Kelly, died Tuesday. She was 86.
Charisse was admitted to Cedars-Sinai Medical Center on Monday after suffering an apparent heart attack, said her publicist, Gene Schwam.
It was her uncredited turn opposite Astaire in “Ziegfeld Follies” in 1946 that won her a seven-year contract with MGM. Her moves with Astaire in Vincent Minnelli’s “Band Wagon” were often described as “heavenly.”
One of the greatest female dancers in the heyday of the Hollywood musical, she starred in such big-screen extravaganzas as “Brigadoon” (1954) and as a young Vicki Carr in “The Silencers” (1966). While she strutted her considerable stuff on the screen, her singing was invariably dubbed.
Though she didn’t often spend much time on the screen, her scenes made dramatic impact. Outfitted in the most splendid costumes, she wowed audiences with her dance moves in such 1940s entertainments as “The Harvey Girls,” “Three Wise Fools,” “Till the Clouds Roll By,” “Fiesta,” “The Unfinished Dance,” “Words and Music” and “The Kissing Bandit.” Her final dancing turns were in the ’50s in such films as “Brigadoon,” “It’s Always Fair Weather,” “Invitation to the Dance” and “Silk Stockings,” a musical remake of “Ninotchka” that reteamed her with Astaire.
Along with the musical, her career peaked during the ’40s and ’50s, and then fell in the ’60s. However, reflective of the countercultural times, she performed a memorable striptease in the comic spy thriller “Silencers.”
Her only dancing opportunity in the ’60s was in the British film “Black Tights” (1960). During the decade, she played dramatic roles that did not include dancing, appearing in such forgettable fare as “Five Golden Hours,” “Two Weeks in Another Town,” “Assassination in Rome” and “Maroc 7.” During the ’70s, she co-starred in “Warlords of Atlantis” (1978).
She went on to make numerous TV appearances, as well as thriving on the nightclub circuit with her second husband, singer Tony Martin.
She was born Tula Ellice Finklea on March 8, 1921, in Amarillo, Texas. As a child, she took ballet lessons and joined the Ballet Russe at 13. She married an ex-dance teacher, Nico Charisse, in 1939. Four years later, she appeared in her first film, “Something to Shout About,” under the name of Lily Norwood.
Her TV appearances began in 1948 with “The Milton Berle Show.” Other shows included “What’s My Line?” “Arthur Godfrey and His Friends,” “The Hollywood Squares,” “Hawaii Five-O,” “Fantasy Island,” “The Fall Guy,” “Murder, She Wrote,” “Crazy Like a Fox,” “Burke’s Law” and, most recently, “Frasier.”
In 1992, she made her Broadway debut in “Grand Hotel,” as well as released an exercise video.
She and Martin wrote their joint biography, “The Two of Us,” which was published in 1976.
The Associate Press contributed to this report.
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