Elaine Stritch mourned as a feisty, funny broad

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NEW YORK (AP) — Elaine Stritch was more than a Broadway actress. She was a New York institution, strolling around in a fur coat, pork pie hat or oversized sunglasses. She often wore shorts and ties, or just black stockings and a white flowing shirt. Her weapon of choice was the zinger.

“I like anything I don’t know about,” she said in a 2010 interview with The Associated Press. “And I don’t like most of the things I do.” She also offered this: “The most horrible line in the English language for me is, ‘God, you haven’t changed a bit.'”

Stritch, who became a sort of shorthand for acting longevity since she made her Broadway debut in “Loco” in 1946, died Thursday at 89 in her home state of Michigan — far from her adopted home of New York and her former longtime home and stage at the Carlyle Hotel. But Broadway and New York immediately sent their love.

Liza Minnelli remembered her as “a true trail blazer. Her talent and spunk will be greatly missed by so many of us.” Lena Dunham said on Twitter: “May your heaven be a booze-soaked, no-pants solo show at the Carlyle.” Broadway’s marquees were to dim in her memory on Friday and a Twitter hashtag was born — #EverybodyRise.

Although Stritch appeared in movies and on television, garnering three Emmys and finding new fans as Alec Baldwin’s unforgiving mother on “30 Rock,” she was best known for her stage work, particularly in her candid one-woman memoir, “Elaine Stritch: At Liberty,” and in the Stephen Sondheim musical “Company.”

Stritch worked well into her late 80s, most recently as Madame Armfeldt in a revival of Sondheim’s musical “A Little Night Music” in 2010. She had built up so much goodwill that simply appearing onstage triggered a wave of applause, but she said she still tried to earn it every night. Her tart tongue also remained.

“You know where I’m at in age?” she asked during the run. “I don’t need anything. That’s a little scary — when you know that the last two bras you bought are it. You won’t need any more. I’m not going to live long for any big, new discovery at Victoria’s Secret.”

In 2013, Stritch retired to Michigan after 71 years in New York City and made a series of farewell performances at the Carlyle, where she lived for a decade. A documentary released in February showed her final years, complete with forgotten lyrics, touching moments and flashes of irrational anger.

Someone asked her if she liked it. “I said I loved it, I just wish I wasn’t in it,” she replied. When she flew back to New York to promote the film — “Elaine Stritch: Shoot Me” — she was as feisty as ever and even unleashing the F-bomb on the “Today” show.

Her life story was the basis of “At Liberty,” the show in which she explored her ups, downs and in-betweens. She discussed her stage fright, missed showbiz opportunities, alcoholism, battle with diabetes and love life, all interspersed with songs. It earned her a Tony Award in 2002 and an Emmy when it was later televised on HBO.

In “Company” in 1970, Stritch played the acerbic Joanne, delivering a lacerating version of “The Ladies Who Lunch,” a classic Sondheim song dissecting the modern Manhattan matron. Stritch originated the role in New York and then appeared in the London production.

Among her other notable Broadway appearances were as Grace, the owner of a small-town Kansas restaurant in William Inge’s “Bus Stop” (1955), and as a harried cruise ship social director in the Noel Coward musical “Sail Away” (1961). She also appeared in revivals of “Show Boat” (1994), in which she played the cantankerous Parthy Ann Hawks, and Edward Albee’s “A Delicate Balance” (1996), portraying a tart-tongued, upper-crust alcoholic.

She was parodied in 2010 on an episode of “The Simpsons” in which Lisa Simpson attends a fancy performing arts camp. One class was on making wallets with Elaine Stritch and Andrew Lloyd Webber. “That’s worth being in the business for 150 years,” she said with a laugh.

Stritch’s films include “A Farewell to Arms” (1957), “Out to Sea” (1997), and Woody Allen’s “September” (1987) and “Small Time Crooks” (2000). She also appeared on TV, most notably a guest spot on “Law & Order” in 1990, which won Stritch her first Emmy. The recurring role in “30 Rock” got her another in 2007.

She starred in the London stage productions of Neil Simon’s “The Gingerbread Lady” and Tennessee Williams’ “Small Craft Warnings.” It was in England that Stritch met and married actor John Bay. They were married for 10 years. He died of a brain tumor in 1982.

In “At Liberty,” she delivered “I’m Still Here,” Sondheim’s hymn to show-business survival, a number she once described as “one of the greatest musical theater songs ever written.” It could have been written about her.

“Good times and bum times/I’ve seen them all and, my dear/I’m still here,” the song starts. “Plush velvet sometimes/Sometimes just pretzels and beer/But I’m here.”

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Mark Kennedy is at http://twitter.com/KennedyTwits

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AP Entertainment Writer Jake Coyle contributed to this report.

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