Tony-winning and Emmy-nommed actress and singer Edie Adams died Wednesday in West Hills, Calif., after a battle with cancer and pneumonia. She was 81.
Adams’ 60-year career spanned Broadway, television, movies, nightclubs and records, but she was perhaps best known as the spokeswoman for Muriel Cigars in the 1950s and ‘60, purring “Why Don’t You Pick One Up and Smoke It Sometime?” on TV commercials.
Initially working as Edith Adams, the curvy blond thesp — who was known to do an uncanny Marilyn Monroe imitation — won a featured actress in a musical Tony award in 1957 for her role as Daisy Mae in the Broadway musical version of Al Capp’s “Li’l Abner.”
She moved on to feature film supporting roles, mostly in comedies such as “The Apartment,” “Lover Come Back,” “The Honey Pot,” “It’s a Mad, Mad, Mad, Mad World,” “Love With the Proper Stranger” and “Under the Yum, Yum Tree.”
Adams starred in her own television series on ABC, “Here’s Edie” and “The Edie Adams Show” (1963-1964), for which she received four Emmy noms. She played nightclubs across the country and released several record albums.
A long list of legit credits includes the road company of “Nunsense,” a female version of Neil Simon’s “The Odd Couple,” the Los Angeles production of “Nightclub Confidential” and “The Merry Widow” with the Long Beach Light Opera Company.
In the 1970s and ‘80s, she worked in television again on shows including “Fantasy Island,” “The Love Boat,” “Murder, She Wrote” and “Designing Women.”
Adams was born in Kingston, Penn., but grew up in Tenafly, N.J., and graduated from the Juilliard School of Music. Her first major break came when legendary director, producer and playwright George Abbott cast her in the Broadway production of “Wonderful Town,” alongside Rosalind Russell. While appearing in the hit musical at night, she spent her days studying with Lee Strasberg at the Actor’s Studio.
She competed on Arthur Godfrey’s “Talent Scouts” and was named Miss New York Television and Miss U.S. Television in 1950, which led to an appearance on “The Milton Berle Show” on NBC and a string of appearances on Ernie Kovacs’ TV show.
She and Kovacs later married and appeared together on CBS, NBC, and the Dumont Network. Kovacs died in a car accident in 1962. In recent years, Adams worked to preserve videotapes and kinescopes of TV shows on which she and Kovacs appeared, resulting in a package of more than 150 vintage shows.
She is survived by a son, Joshua Mills, from her marriage to photographer Martin Mills.
Donations may be made to the Foundation for the Junior Blind of America.