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Dancer, film icon Cyd Charisse dies

Remembered for work with Kelly, Astaire

Dancer and movie star Cyd Charisse died of cardiac arrest Tuesday at Cedars-Sinai Medical Center in Los Angeles, her longtime business manager Stan Schneider disclosed. She was 86.

Though only 5-foot-6, the Amarillo, Texas, native was famous for her long legs and her beauty, and is perhaps best known for her onscreen pairings with Fred Astaire and Gene Kelly, including roles in “The Band Wagon,” (1953), in which she performed the acclaimed routines “Dancing in the Dark” and “Girl Hunt Ballet” with Astaire, and “Singin’ in the Rain” (1952), which featured her classic “Broadway Melody” showstopper opposite Kelly.

Charisse (born Tula Ellice Finklea) studied ballet in L.A. with Adolph Bolm and Bronislava Nijinska and briefly danced in the Ballet Russes before joining MGM as a resident ballet dancer.

She first appeared with Astaire in a brief routine in “Ziegfeld Follies” (released in 1946) and reunited with him in 1957’s “Silk Stockings,” the musical version of “Ninotchka,” in which she took on the part originally played by Greta Garbo.

Besides “Singin’ in the Rain,” she paired with Kelly in 1954’s “Brigadoon” and his 1956 pic “It’s Always Fair Weather.”

She continued to appear in film and TV productions from the 1960s through to the 1990s and made her Broadway debut at 70 in the musical “Grand Hotel,” coincidentally again in a production that included Garbo in the original film version.

Last July she lensed “Back to the Empire State Building” for French TV, according to her longtime manager Budd Moss. The film, a tribute to American cinema that also featured Kirk Douglas, Tony Curtis, Mickey Rooney, Gena Rowlands, Ben Gazzara and Marsha Hunt, was filmed in English but has not been set for release outside of France, Moss said.

Charisse wrote a joint biography with her husband, singer Tony Martin, and Dick Kleiner titled “The Two of Us” (1976) and was especially proud of two awards: She (along with Maurice Bejart) was specially honored at the first Nijinsky Awards in Monaco in 2001, and she was presented with the National Medal of the Arts and Humanities by President George W. Bush in 2006.

Charisse also produced the exercise video “Easy Energy Shape Up,” targeted at active senior citizens.

Besides her husband of 60 years, she is survived by two sons, a grandson and a granddaughter.

Services will be held 3 p.m. Sunday at Hillside Memorial Park, 6001 W. Centinela Ave., Los Angeles, CA 90045.

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