Cyd Charisse, a famous actress and dancer who can be see in such classic films as Singin’ in the Rain, has died. She was 86 years old and passed away after a heart attack in Los Angeles.
Born Tula Ellice Finklea, the Texas native studied classical ballet from a young age, touring with the legendary Ballets Russes starting at age 14. Later, having taken on the stage name Cyd Charisse (a combination of her childhood nickname and the surname of her first husband), she rose to fame dancing in MGM musicals opposite Fred Astaire (Ziegfeld Follies, The Band Wagon, Silk Stockings) and Gene Kelly (Singin’ in the Rain, Brigadoon, It’s Always Fair Weather). Though just 5 feet, 6 inches tall, Charisse became known for her long legs; the Guinness Book of World Records reportedly once listed her as having the world’s most valuable legs, due to a $5 million insurance policy taken out on them. As Astaire said, “She wasn’t a tap dancer, she’s just beautiful, trained, very strong in whatever we did. When we were dancing, we didn’t know what time it was.”
Charisse also forged a popular partnership with her second husband, singer Tony Martin, with whom she performed song-and-dance acts in nightclubs and on television. In later years, she appeared in exercise videos and on Broadway, where she debuted in 1992, at age 71, in the musical Grand Hotel. In 2006, she received the National Medal of Arts and Humanities, the highest U.S. honor afforded to people in the arts.