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Elaine Stritch (1925-2014)

When Colleen Donaghy died on 30 Rock in the episode "My Whole Life is Thunder" I tried to think of it as tragicomic rehearsal. A chance to acknowledge that death was coming for the beloved theater great but to laugh at it or at least about its absurd finality.

Elaine Stritch herself wouldn't have approved of my wussiness. She might've said something like "it's me who's dying, not you!" (albeit in a much funnier manner) because she had a tart tongue and was quite a truth teller. In the documentary Elaine Stritch: Shoot Me (reviewed) released early this year she references her impending death more than a little as she prepares to move back home (Detroit) and retire finally, in her late eighties, for good.

But even this documentary didn't quite convince me that she was leaving us.

I saw Elaine Stritch’s famous one woman Broadway show “At Liberty” in early 2002 a couple of years after moving to New York. I’m not exaggerating when I say that it was nothing short of spiritual ecstasy but then showbiz is my religion and actresses are my only gods. 

 I had mythologized her, you can see in that excerpt of that intro to my review of that documentary. How could Death conquer such a life force?

It wasn't until after the special screening here in NYC that Stritch (or as I like to call her "Stritchieeeeeeeee!" imitating her imitation of an angry director in At Liberty) was wheeled out to greet us that it finally sunk in. She looked undeniably more like a feeble old woman than the  giant of the theater in white shirt and black tights that I was accustomed to looking up at with awe.

The last time I'd seen Stritchieeee in the flesh before that she was also in a wheelchair. It was late 2010 when she took over for Angela Lansbury in the Broadway Revival of "A Little Night Music." She sings her big number "Liaisons" from a wheelchair. But that was just acting. More rehearsal.

When Elaine set out to do something she worked her ass off until she did it right. 

So here's to the girls on the go--
Everybody tries.
Look into their eyes,
And you'll see what they know:
Everybody dies.
A toast to that invincible bunch,
The dinosaurs surviving the crunch.
Let's hear it for the ladies who lunch--
Everybody rise!
Rise! Rise! Rise! Rise! Rise! Rise! Rise!

And this Tony and Emmy winning legend did it right. A final round of thunderous applause please because this time there's no more encores. 

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Reader Comments (14)

Vodka stingers all around! Here's to you Elaine, the original Lady who Lunched. May you never again have to wear pants or put up with anyone's bullshit.

July 17, 2014 | Unregistered CommenterJonny

Her passing is crushing to me. I want to be as sharp as she was someday.

July 17, 2014 | Unregistered Commenter3rtful

LOVE her in September. She completely saves that movie.

July 17, 2014 | Unregistered Commentero.s.

o.s. i though Dianne Wiest was great in that one, too. But otherwise...

July 17, 2014 | Unregistered CommenterNathaniel R

I have a very powerful memory of seeing Elaine on some network variety show, probably about 1970 or 1971, when I was around ten, singing "Ladies Who Lunch" against a stark white background. The song confused me (don't all ladies eat lunch?) as much as it wigged me out. Even at that age, I understood all the anger, bitterness, and self-incrimination, and I wondered and worried if adult life was really like that (as it turns out, yes, sometimes anyway). I'll never forget that performance, or Elaine, or what she taught me about being alive.

July 17, 2014 | Unregistered CommenterLiz S.

The first time I listened to "Ladies Who Lunch" I was maybe 12 or 13. Like Liz S. I understood it emotionally but not intellectually. I would sing it to myself at recess when I felt left out or angry. I don't know if it helped, but it made me feel a little more powerful.

I'm going to watch Shoot Me and drink a vodka stinger in Stritchie's honor tonight.

July 17, 2014 | Unregistered CommenterAnne Marie

I'm sure the last few years of her life were difficult. May she rest in peace.

July 17, 2014 | Unregistered Commenterbrandz

A true legend leaves us. Watch her singing "I'm still here" at the Stephen Sondheim 80th birthday concert. It is a tightrope performance, where she starts perfectly still, looking worn out and worn down, then works her way into a belting, angry, joyous, defiant finish. Awesome.

Pass the vodka - this one's for you, Stritchie!

July 17, 2014 | Unregistered CommenterErko

Diabetes is just so rough, especially when people hit a certain age. I wonder how Joan Rivers feels... she's one of the last old-school funny ladies left now with Betty White.

July 17, 2014 | Unregistered CommenterBia

Company became my obsession in my single 20's. I knew every single person in that show. We will miss you,
Does anyone still wear......a hat ?

July 18, 2014 | Unregistered CommenterLeslie19

What?! I screamed in agony when I see that title.
Rest in Peace Stritchie

July 18, 2014 | Unregistered Commentercraver

I'm so so sad. I've been a fan since I saw her in September. Suprisingly, after that mercurial performance I only had a few chances to enjoy her talent on the big screen so every appearance on TV was truly celebrated (thank you, Tina Fey).

Her solo concert must be preserved as the testament of an era.

July 18, 2014 | Unregistered CommenterPeggy Sue

Most Broadway shows tend to favor a good voice over performance. This becomes a major mistake that for some reason repeatedly shows up on the stage. The true essence of a good musical performance is selling the story line and character. If sold properly - the voice quality makes little difference. Elaine Stritch was the master. Her masterpiece for the ages is her dramatic with music performance in Company.

July 18, 2014 | Unregistered CommenterrobertL

I was quite young when I watched SEPTEMBER and I was quite surprised that she missed an Oscar (and even Globes) nom

July 20, 2014 | Unregistered CommenterMirko

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