Catlike singer Earth Kitt has died at 81, of cancer. Born on a Southern cotton plantation, she got her break when she auditioned for a dance company on a dare.

Previously, she had been homeless in New York after being sent there to live with her aunt.

She performed on Broadway and in movies, TV, and plays (Orson Welles loved her in both senses of the word), but was most at home as a cabaret performer, where she could more effectively seduce her audience.

She voiced her opposition to the Vietnam War at a White House luncheon, and was blackballed from performing in the States for a while—so she performed in Europe and became even more popular there.

As every news outlet is noting, she was also known for the song "Santa Baby."

She told Reuters in 2005, "The audience is not supposed to know that I'm scared, the shyest person in the world."