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Hollywood dancer Cyd Charisse has passed away

Actress Cyd Charisse, the last great Hollywood dancer, died of heart failure at the age of 87. She rose to fame at the height of the big studio musical era, gracefully partnering actors such as Gene Kelly and Fred Astaire.

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Dancer and actress Cyd Charisse, whose legs were insured for a million dollars in the heyday of the Hollywood musical, died at her home in Los Angeles on Tuesday, her agent said. She was 87.

Scott Stander said Charisse, a regular partner of legends Gene Kelly and Fred Astaire, suffered a heart attack at her home and "never recovered."

Charisse rose to fame as the big studio musical was fading from view, playing the vamp who entices Kelly in "Singin' in the Rain."

A brief role without a word of dialogue, Charisse made an unforgettable entrance by dangling Kelly's straw hat on the toe of her high heel as he -- and the camera -- admired her fully-extended leg.

She got to play Kelly's leading lady in Vincente Minnelli's "Brigadoon" and partnered with Fred Astaire in "The Band Wagon" and "Silk Stockings" before the studios pulled the plug on big budget musicals.

Charisse went to France to produce her last musical -- "Les Collants Noirs" -- before moving on to a series of less satisfying dramatic roles.

"Screaming and yelling wasn't really my style," she said in a 2004 interview.

Astaire, who called her "beautiful dynamite," said somewhat enigmatically, "When you dance with Cyd Charisse, you've been danced with."

Born Tula Ellice Finklea in 1921, Charisse began dancing at six when her doctor recommended exercise to recover from polio.

She got the nickname "Sid" from a younger brother who couldn't pronounce "sister" and later changed it to the more exotic Cyd at the suggestion of her agent.

Charisse left her home in Amarillo, Texas as a young girl for the better dance studios in Los Angeles and was hired at 14 by the legendary Ballet Russe.

Charisse toured Europe, changing her name several times to better fit into the program, until the troupe disbanded when the war broke out in 1939.

She married her old dance teacher, Nico Charisse, in Paris and then returned to Los Angeles where the couple had one child, Nico Jr.

Charisse got her first movie role in 1942: a bit part as Lily Norwood in "Something to Shout About" which she once said "wasn't anything to shout about." She did not settle on her stage name until MGM studio signed her to a seven-year contract in 1945.

She soon divorced Charisse and had a brief romance with fellow Texan Howard Hughes, who sent limousines to help her get around after she broke her leg in a staircase routine for the film "On an Island With You."

After her stunning dance with Fred Astaire in "Ziegfeld Follies," Charisse played a number of dancer roles in lesser films while the studio sent her to acting lessons.

She turned down an offer to star opposite Gene Kelly in "An American in Paris" because she wanted to start a family with her new husband, crooner Tony Martin. Their marriage would last more than 60 years.

While her sexy but silent role in "Singin' in the Rain" solidified her status as a pin-up queen, Charisse became a full-blown star in 1953 with her first lead role opposite Astaire in Minnelli's "Band Wagon."

She also famously played Dean Martin's new wife in Marylin Monroe's last -- and unfinished -- 1962 film "Something's Got to Give."

Charisse continued to make films into the 1970s and developed a successful nightclub act with her husband.

She made her Broadway debut at 70 in the musical "Grand Hotel", reprising Greta Garbo's role, and continued to play small roles on television.

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