Costa Mesa woman known as world’s tallest burlesque dancer dies at 90

Irene Jewell, aka Ricki Covette, is pictured in her Costa Mesa home in December 2014. At 6-foot-8, she headlined clubs from the 1950s through 1970s as the world's tallest burlesque dancer. She died Friday at age 90.
(File photo / Daily Pilot)

Irene Siewert Jewell, a longtime Costa Mesa resident who from the 1950s through 1970s went by the stage name Ricki Covette as the world’s tallest burlesque dancer, has died. She was 90.

The retired entertainer died Friday, about two weeks shy of her 91st birthday, according to her family. The cause of death was not immediately available.

Jewell, who lived in the Eastside for more than 23 years, appeared in movies, theaters and television.

Promotional materials billed the 6-foot-8 performer as the “Amazon” woman, a “Glamazon,” the “girl of tomorrow today.”

In an interview with the Daily Pilot in December 2014, Jewell noted how the story of her burlesque days was having a resurgence through documentaries, Internet fan sites — even the Smithsonian Institution. Before she died, she gave some of her personal albums to the institution’s National Museum of American History.

“I will live forever and ever and ever,” Jewell said at the time. “It’s what they told me at the Smithsonian.”

Karen Siewert Clark, one of Jewell’s nieces, called her a “positive and optimistic woman.”

“It was always a special event, a special treat to spend time with Aunt Irene,” Clark said. “I always felt mesmerized by her glamour. Yet she was so kind and loving and very strong, independent.”

After hearing the news of Jewell’s death, Washington, D.C., resident Janelle Smith, who helped Jewell donate her materials to the Smithsonian, wrote on Jewell’s Facebook page that when she met her, Jewell was “nothing but gracious and welcoming. I have been truly, deeply honored and blessed to call her a friend. Today, and in days to follow, there will be a Glamazon-sized hole in my heart.”

Jewell was born in Canada in 1925. She grew up wanting to be a singer and dancer, and despite not possessing natural talent for either, she succeeded in the fiercely competitive entertainment industry through hard work, professionalism and training.

“I was always on time for the show,” Jewell told the Pilot in 2014. “Never missed a train or a plane or method of transportation, regardless of the weather.”

According to her family, Jewell’s credits include appearances in the 1966 films “The Swinger” and “A Funny Thing Happened on the Way to the Forum” and in the 2010 Leslie Zemeckis documentary, “Behind the Burly Q.”

When her entertainment career ended, Jewell worked in real estate. In her later years, she volunteered at the Costa Mesa Senior Center.

At the time of Jewell’s death, Clark said, her aunt was working on a book about her life and managing the legacy of her late partner, Stuart Jewell, an Oscar-winning nature photographer. He died in 1997.

Clark’s daughter Spencer said she got to know her great-aunt during regular business trips to Orange County.

“Every visit I had with her, I would learn something new about her life,” Spencer Clark said. “She quickly became a role model for me. The dedication that she had for her career was still alive in her until the very end. I will remember her most by the passion that she had for life, and she will continue to inspire me to achieve my dreams.”

Jewell, who had no children, is survived by her older sister, Cynthia Partain, 93, four nieces and several grandnieces, grandnephews and great-great-grandnephews and nieces.

Public services are planned for Monday at Rose Hills Memorial Park and Mortuaries in Whittier.