My heart sank when I saw the news that Elaine Stritch, the Broadway star, cabaret performer, movie and TV actress, had died Thursday. Frankly, I expected her to live forever. And since she worked well into her 80s, never failing to exhibit the dry wit, sharp tongue and occasional glimpse of wistfulness that characterized her persona (onstage and off), her fans can be forgiven for thinking she would never leave the Earth.
In an age when Hollywood worships actresses for their youthfulness, and Esquire magazine just proclaimed with great self-congratulation that it thinks women as old as 42 can be beautiful, it's simply delicious to know that Stritch was 76 when she debuted her smash one-woman theatrical show "Elaine Stritch at Liberty," clad in nothing more than a loose-fitting white shirt and black stockings showing off her fabulous long legs, and telling her story in that distinctively low, raspy voice. She won a Tony for her performance.
Her career spanned every incarnation of the entertainment business, stretching from Noel Coward to Woody Allen to the NBC show "30 Rock." (Well, she never made it onto "Orange Is the New Black" although I'm sure the writers could have found a great role for her.) She acted in musicals ("Pal Joey," Stephen Sondheim's "Company"), stage dramas, had a part in Allen's 1987 film "September," played the harsh mother-in-law of Jane Fonda's harsh mother-in-law character in "Monster-in-Law" in 2005, made numerous guest appearances on TV shows — and trod the boards as recently as 2010 in a Broadway revival of "A Little Night Music."
But it was her one-woman show that I found most dazzling. I put on a one-woman show to mark my 50th birthday, and during the time that I was preparing my show, I thought of Stritch often and aspired to be just a fraction as captivating and unabashed and funny as she was in her show about her life as a hardworking, hard-partying actress. Of course, I didn't have her show-biz memories or her legs, but her onstage presence, her defiance and embrace of her age were inspirational to me telling my own story musing on and celebrating five decades of life.
I am sorry to see Elaine Stritch go, but what she leaves behind — her work, her attitude, her energy — should inspire all who come after her to be sassy and saucy as long as there is a stage to stand on.