Elaine Stritch, Acerbic Tony and Emmy Winner, Dies at 89

Actress Elaine Stritch, star of Broadway hits including “Elaine Stritch at Liberty” and “Show Boat,” who was nominated for multiple Tonys and Emmys, winning three of the latter, has died. She was 89.

Stritch, an atypical star of stage and screen known for her association with Stephen Sondheim, quickly gained a reputation for the worldly, acerbic wit that often defined her characters. In her one-woman show “Elaine Stritch at Liberty,” Stritch talked candidly about battling the bottle and her colorful, albeit destructive, love life. Her role as the drunk yet lucid Claire in “A Delicate Balance” earned her a 1996 Tony nomination for best actress. Roles in “Bus Stop,” “Sail Away” and “Company” snagged her three other noms while “Elaine Stritch at Liberty” won her the 2002 award for special theatrical event.

SEE ALSO: Elaine Stritch’s Career in Pictures

On television, Stritch was memorable late in her career for her recurring role on NBC’s “30 Rock” as the crusty, goofy mother to Alec Baldwin’s character, drawing five nominations for the role and winning in 2007. She was also impressive as a fierce but notably ethical defense attorney on two episodes of “Law & Order,” winning an Emmy for the role in 1993. A P.A. Pennebaker documentary of her “At Liberty” stage show won several Emmys in 2004, including for her the award for outstanding individual performance in a variety program.

Stritch did not restrict her candor to the stage, once telling Variety’s Army Archerd that she “flipped over Rock Hudson — and we all know what a bum decision that turned out to be,” referring to her failed romance with the closeted actor. These gritty, honest revelations contributed to the unique style Stritch brought to her work.

SEE ALSO: Hollywood Reacts to Elaine Stritch’s Death on Twitter

Born in Detroit, Stritch ironically attended finishing school before landing the abrasive, tough-as-nails roles for which she became known. She studied acting at the New School’s Dramatic Workshop with Marlon Brando and once said of performing: “There are a lot of things I do that I don’t want to, but I have to. It’s truly an emotional need for me to perform.” This necessity was reflected in her career, which spanned several decades and two oceans, leading her to stages in London’s West End and dozens of appearances on the small and silver screen.

On TV, she racked up credits in the episodic anthologies of the 1950s, appeared on “The Ed Sullivan Show,” starred in a TV series version of “My Sister Eileen” in 1960-61, starred in the U.K. sitcom “Two’s Company” in the late ’70s and had a role on “The Ellen Burstyn Show” in 1986-87; she also recurred on “The Cosby Show.”

SEE ALSO: Elaine Stritch’s Last Interview with Variety

Film credits include the 1957 film adaptation of Ernest Hemingway’s “A Farewell to Arms,” Woody Allen’s 1987 film “September,” the Robin Williams comedy “Cadillac Man,” Allen’s “Small Time Crooks” and romancer “Autumn in New York.”

Stritch made her stage debut at New York’s New School in 1944. The actress understudied Ethel Merman for “Call Me Madam” while simultaneously appearing in the 1952 revival of “Pal Joey”; later she starred in the national tour of “Call Me Madam.”

Her professional relationship with Sondheim lasted decades. She made famous Sondheim’s sneeringly witty tune “The Ladies Who Lunch” in 1970’s “Company,” sang his enduring “I’m Still Here” in her 2002 solo show and performed in a 2010 revue of his tunes called “At Home at the Carlyle: Elaine Stritch Singin’ Sondheim…One Song at a Time.” The actress appeared in Garth Drabinsky’s smash hit “Show Boat” in 1994 and in Edward Albee’s play “A Delicate Balance” in 1996.

In 2010 Stritch replaced Angela Lansbury as Madame Armfeldt in “A Little Night Music” on Broadway.

The actress was profiled in the 2013 feature documentary “Elaine Stritch: Shoot Me” (photo above), directed by Chiemi Karasawa.

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  1. Here’s my drunk & sober take on Miss Stritch in the Huff Post: http://goo.gl/MLGLZA

  2. Gene of Aquitaine says:

    Dang..she was one righteous broad…everybody rise!

  3. Jim Souter says:

    It is amazing how many SO talented people there are in this world of entertainment. I remember seeing her in so many TV and movie experiences. You would only appreciate her for her talent- not her name or fame.Thank you Elaine for you good works and your professionalism. Miss you–

  4. Elaine Stritch was one hell of a broad!!!! Love that woman and will miss her moxie!!
    Thank God we had her for as long as we did.

  5. Ken says:

    Stritch was a stich in the Britcom “Two’s Company”. She made me laugh my head off. Her one-woman show, that I caught on PBS a while back, was moving, hilarious and brutally honest. A great career!

  6. Elaine Blades says:

    Loved, Loved her all, always such fun, Remember, Autumn in NY, she made that film come alive…always loved her tales, honesty & how she saw some of the greatest in real time, such a joy! And we got to have her in our lives.. Talk Shows best guest too!

  7. Paul Stein says:

    Another Broadway legend leaves this earth. One of the most entertaining and outspoken actors of our time. She will be missed in all the cameos and great performances in the past she has given all of us. A true spirit with a “tell it like it is” personality. Her smile will live on forever.

  8. Peggy Kerr says:

    It was a special treat to see Elaine Stritch and Jason Robards perform LOVE LETTERS at a Mayo Clinic event in Rochester, Minnesota, a few years ago. We went backstage after the performance to meet the two stars and obtain autographs. Most gracious in greeting their fans!

  9. Hola atodos lesdeseo un lindo fin d semana a todos ,espero k se la esten padando muy bien

  10. John Sowley says:

    |I knew her and loved her back in the 40s..I attended the
    Dramatic workshop of the New Schoolin NYC when she was there! I studied costume design but changed that to performing. THOSE were the “Good ol days” I am 91, living in Fl. Break a leg Elaine G. B.

  11. Beckee Handrich says:

    I remember her in the movie, “Cocoon”.

  12. Marta Morgan says:

    Loved her as Baldwin’s mom in 30 Rock. It seems like these older character actresses are a thing of the past….

  13. sharon says:

    One of the last truly great “showbiz broads” She was terrific

  14. Johnny Dollar says:

    I call dibs on her glasses

  15. talkoh says:

    She was FABULOUS in 30 Rock!!!

  16. PixelPun says:

    I’ll never forget when she just walked out on the stage in the middle of the Late Show with David letterman and called him her new pool boy… lol

  17. Leah Pruitt says:

    Goodbye to one of the Greats. Only recently discovered this talent and now regret not have seeing it all. Goodbye Elaine, and Goodnight!

    • I was visiting Manhattan one Summer and while walking down Park Avenue I saw this Figure looming towards me, I was thrilled to recognize, Ms. Stritch, in her wonderful black hat, large black glasses, dressed in white blouse and black slacks…Her presence was a glow with focus & purpose to proceed on her walk maybe down to Broadway to the Theatre? I know the Lights will soon Dim there to honor her Career and Craft…Blessings and Godspeed Ms. Stritch, You will be missed.

  18. Rob says:

    Fantastic on 30 Rock. Very funny lady.

  19. Arjay says:

    I’ve been a fan for many years and always looked forward to her performances and wit whether it was on stage or TV. A few years ago I purchased the whole series of “Two’s Company” on DVD after having seen a few episodes on TV. I’ll have to sit down and watch them all with fond memories of Elaine. RIP Ms. Stritch!

  20. Elaine Stritch was a great talent with a unique wit. I had the great pleasure to see her perform on many occasions, my favorite being her fantastic performance and rendition of “Here’s To The Ladies who Lunch” in the broadway show, “Company”, which brought the house down every time.
    She’ll be missed, revered, and remembered.

  21. Antonio J Rengifo says:

    I drove her on a regular basis to and from the Regency Hotel and theater’s during “Showboat” and her “Delicate balance ” run. She would race me in the car, she on foot, to the theater!! I lost many times! It was always close! Crotchety Old Broad she was, we exchanged Christmas presents : ) Got me in to see her performances. I am saddened at the loss, she would say “Holy crap, what a pansy you are”, but in style I will raise a big glass of Bourbon tonight and toast to her wonderful contribution. Tough as nails there will never be another. RIP Elaine, and my sincerest condolences to the family.

  22. Dorthy Every says:

    VERY SORRY FOR HER FAMILY AND THANKS FOR ALL THE MEMORIES. GOD BLESS

  23. I didn’t have the opportunity to see Elaine Stritch but when I did I thought she was marvelous.–always fun to watch.

  24. Dale Smith says:

    I was fortunate enough to meet Miss Stritch a few times, twice in her dressing rooms on Broadway and once when I knocked on her door at home in Sag Harbor. She was everything and more than I expected, very accommodating; taking photos, signing my soundtrack albums from ‘Company’ and ‘Sail Away’ etc., and each time exhibiting that brash personality with an undertone of kindness and class. She was an original….and will be missed. There will never be another like her. “Zip!”

  25. Ronald Black says:

    What a great broad and talent she was! She stole the show at Sondheim’s 80th birthday when she performed “I’m Still Here!” There were 6 tour de force performances towards the end with Patti Lu Pone, Bernadette Peters, Audra McDonald, Marilyn Mazzie, Donna Murphy and Miss Stritch, and she was dazzling! God will have a handful in Miss Stritch! Brava! Brava! Brava!

  26. Jack says:

    Rest in peace. Thanks for the memories

  27. A wonderful actress, truly talented and with a long, great career. She will be missed.

  28. Kallie says:

    She sometimes played a teacher on the “Bill Cosby Show”; wherever I saw her, she was mostly acerbic but a great talent. i’ll miss her — as will hundreds of others!!

  29. John Fenner says:

    Gone too soon.

  30. Eelo Fudpucker says:

    She was a great broad !!!!!

  31. I sad to hear that we lost such a lovely legend. I’m sure the lights on Broadway will be dimmed tonight in her honor. I hope so.

  32. She was truly one-of-a-kind. Too fantastic for words. There are really no entertainers of her caliber left today. She certainly will be missed…

  33. Tom says:

    I remember her on Law & Order. She played a tough-as-nails defense attorney that couldn’t be taken lightly.

  34. Renee M. says:

    A very beautiful lady full of hell fire and grit. I saw her 1 woman play at the Public Theater which showed how truly astounding she was. God Bless you Babe, RIP

  35. Juanaquena says:

    Farewell to a wonderful “Broadway Baby.”

  36. Vince Giaco says:

    Bye Elaine you were great!

  37. Viningsgal says:

    They don’t make them like her any more. Great actress.

  38. Todd1952 says:

    I had the good fortune to see the excellent revival of Jerome Kern and Oscar Hammerstein II’s 1927 musical “Showboat” on Broadway in the fall of 1994 on my one and only trip to New York City. Elaine Stritch was in it playing the part of Parthy Ann Hawks. She was just a few months shy of her 70th birthday and it was wonderful to see her in that musical. There’s no doubt she was doing what she lived to do. The revival had premiered the month before I saw it and the theatre was packed. Elaine Stritch got a huge round of applause at the end when she came out to take her bow and she deserved it. She was wonderful and unforgettable, the very spirit of Broadway.

  39. Michele Hunt says:

    Wow 2 Broadway legends gone in one summer-Eli Wallach and Elaine Stritch. R.I.P. to both.

  40. joan frank says:

    Elaine did it her way…which was wonderful. She’ll be missed by many and for a long time.

  41. Apparently, she had been a friend of James Dean, as well. I loved her portrayal of attorney Lainie Stieglitz on “Law & Order”.

  42. weiscd says:

    I loved her – She was so funny.

  43. Yvette Price says:

    As horrible as the movie Monster-In-Law was, Stritch’s scenes had me in stitches. She was the highlight of that whole horrible movie.

  44. Karl K says:

    I first saw her in Two’s Company when A&E was just starting. A great double act with Donald Sinden.

  45. edkargir says:

    I saw at liberty on broadway . Here’s to the lady who made me and everybody laugh. Rip Elaine

  46. Michelle Jones says:

    I remember her as Rudy’s teacher in The Cosby Show. She had me cracking up when she volunteered to be Bud’s dance partner and he reluctantly accepted. RIP!!!

    • Neet says:

      RIP Elaine Stritch! What a life and what a talented actress. I loved that voice. So many roles and I remember hearing an interview she did on NPR. She was one funny woman and will be missed.

  47. Edith says:

    I recently saw the documentary on Elaine on Netflix and I felt that I didn’t know her as well as I would have liked. She was a delight! I enjoyed the documentary and would recommend it to those who aren’t familiar with her. According to the documentary she had finally purchased a condo in her hometown. I wondered “Did she go there to live after all those years of living in NY?”

  48. Gene says:

    She was very funny.

  49. Wayne says:

    89? That’s only 14 in demon years, Lemon.

    She died far too young. RIP, Colleen Donaghy. Your whole career was thunder.

  50. Michael says:

    Ms. Stritch was also the niece of Samuel Cardinal Stritch, Catholic Archbishop of Chicago, who died in 1958.

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