Elaine Stritch, the raspy-voiced actress whose forceful personality and salty language enlivened the New York stage for more than six decades, died Thursday at her home in Birmingham, Mich. She was 89.
Her death was confirmed by her friend, Julie Keyes, who cited age-related illnesses as the cause.
In a lengthy theater career whose ups and downs included a Tony-winning one-woman show, collaborations with Stephen Sondheim and Edward Albee, and a debilitating but ultimately successful battle with alcoholism, Stritch had a temperament that was outsized even by Broadway standards.
She made few apologies in her career, describing herself as a "Catholic, diabetic, alcoholic, pain in the ass."
Her long fight with the bottle formed a narrative corner for her 2002 one-woman Broadway show "Elaine Stritch at Liberty," which won a Tony. She was nominated four other times, for best actress.
The autobiographical production, part of a late-career resurgence, was later filmed for HBO, winning her an Emmy Award.
"In my time, I have been known to lift a few," she joked at the top of the show in her signature mix of self-deprecation and blunt honesty.
She opened up further in the 2014 documentary "Elaine Stritch: Shoot Me," which revealed memory problems and health issues in recent years.
If most stage entertainers of her generation aspired to a kind of genteel elegance, Stritch preferred something a good deal earthier. Her public persona was that of the no-nonsense, combative grande dame with a blue-collar attitude.
"I suspect Elaine Stritch won't know how to rest in peace!" said Mia Farrow on Thursday, adding that her co-star in director Woody Allen's 1987 movie "September" was a "force of nature."
Born in Detroit on Feb. 2, 1925, to devoutly Catholic parents, Stritch chafed against the strictures of the church and middle-class life. She moved to New York at 17 to pursue an acting career.
"My biggest dream was to get out of Michigan — to discover life beyond the Sacred Heart Convent," she once said.
In New York, Stritch studied drama at the New School for Social Research, where one of her classmates was Marlon Brando, whom she briefly dated.
After cutting her teeth in classical theater, Stritch made her Broadway debut in 1946 with the play "Loco," which ended up being a flop. Six years later at the age of 26, she was a bona fide stage star in the Rodgers and Hart musical "Pal Joey," in which she performed the number "Zip," a song that she would incorporate into her solo repertoire.
She received her first Tony nomination in 1955 for the original Broadway production of the play "Bus Stop," by William Inge, in which she appeared opposite Kim Stanley.
The actress later befriended Noel Coward, who affectionately called her "Stritchy" and who cast her in his musical "Sail Away" in 1961.
"I had more fun with [Coward] than anybody in the world," she told the Los Angeles Times in 2012. "That makes you skip down the street to a rehearsal; he was my upper."
Her singular singing voice has been affectionately compared to a car shifting gears without the clutch, and a combination of sand and glass in a blender.
Still, Stritch managed to succeed in musical theater by gravitating toward parts that required her to play variations of her loud, brassy self.
Her biggest musical hit came in 1970 in the original Broadway production of Sondheim's "Company," in which she played Joanne, a boozy cynic with man problems. Her rendition of the song "Ladies Who Lunch" became a calling card for the actress.