Eartha Kitt, the singer, dancer, actress, and larger-than-life persona, died on Dec. 25 of colon cancer, said Rob Hoerburger in The Seattle Times. She was 81. Famous for her "curvaceous frame," sultry vocals, and "unabashed" sexuality, Kitt is known for songs such as "C'est Si Bon" and "Love for Sale," Broadway appearances such as "New Faces of 1952," and television and film roles, notably as Catwoman in the 1960s series "Batman." No wonder critics have described Kitt "in every feline term imaginable."

Kitt's fame is especially impressive "considering that she was abandoned by her mother at age 3, forced to pick cotton by age 6, and kicked out of the house at 16," said Howard Reich in the Chicago Tribune. She was "triply blessed with a pliant voice, a palpable charisma, and a voracious appetite to succeed." Kitt "conquered virtually every medium she took on," but her journey was much more "tumultuous" than she made it seem—which testifies to her unstoppable will.

Kitt certainly overcame obstacles throughout her life, but "she traveled through life with the blood of a true diva," said Wil Haygood in The Washington Post. When I interviewed her, she arrived wearing a white fur coat, white slacks, and a canary yellow turban, with "a white poodle cupped in each arm." The 90 minutes I spent with her were "unforgettable." She told stories about presidents Johnson and Nixon, her years blacklisted in the United States because of her opposition to the Vietnam War, and her love affairs with Orson Welles and Sammy Davis Jr. My lunch with Kitt was "the most expensive I have ever paid for," but "it was worth every penny."

Against the odds, Kitt defined her own style of celebrity admired worldwide, said Guy Adams in London's Independent, and she "carried on performing almost to the end." She has appeared "in dozens of television shows in recent years," and even performed in Chicago just a month ago. In her last published interview, Ebony magazine asked Kitt how she wished to be remembered. "'I stayed on my own path and did not follow the herd,' she replied. 'I made a way for myself.'"