Peggy Lee

Died January 21st, 2002

LOS ANGELES (AP) - Peggy Lee, the sultry singer who could heat up the room with smoldering hits like ``Fever'' and ``Is That All There Is?,'' has died at 81.

Lee died of a heart attack Monday at her Bel Air home after a career that brought her a Grammy, an Oscar nomination and sold-out performances worldwide.

``She was divine. Whenever she came on the stage and walked in with that cool unruffled manner she had, people just went, `Ahhhh,''' said fellow jazz singer Cleo Laine.

During more than 50 years in show business, Lee recorded hit songs with the Benny Goodman band, sang in the animated Disney movie ``The Lady and the Tramp'' and starred on Broadway in a short-lived autobiographical show, ``Peg.''

The platinum blonde brought a cool, breathy voice to big-band showstoppers, pop ballads and soulful laments.

She touched generations of listeners with recordings such as ``Why Don't You Do Right?,'' ``I'm a Woman,'' ``Lover,'' ``Pass Me By,'' ``Where or When,'' ``The Way You Look Tonight,'' ``I'm Gonna Go Fishin''' and ``Big Spender.'' She won her a Grammy for best contemporary female vocal performance in 1969 for ``Is That All There Is?''

``Many singers confuse shouting with emotion. Peggy Lee sends her feelings down the quiet center of her notes,'' Whitney Balliett, longtime jazz critic for The New Yorker, once wrote.

Lee was born Norma Egstrom on May 26, 1920, in Jamestown, N.D. Her father, a handyman, raised her after her mother died when she was 4. She described a tough childhood, saying in a 1985 interview that her stepmother had abused her but that it had taught her independence. She was performing on a Fargo radio station as a teen-ager when the station suggested she adopt the flashier name Peggy Lee. Goodman discovered her singing at a Chicago hotel and hired her to sing with his band.

A string of hits, notably ``Why Don't You Do Right?,'' made her a star. Then she married Goodman's guitarist, Dave Barbour, and briefly retired to raise their daughter, Nicki. Meanwhile, she became an accomplished songwriter, co-writing ``Manana'' and ``It's a Good Day'' with Barbour.

Lee returned to singing when her marriage to Barbour fell apart, and collaborated with Sonny Burke on the songs for the 1955 ``The Lady and the Tramp.'' She also sang the wayward canine's song ``He's a Tramp (But I Love Him).''

In 1956, she was cast as a boozy blues singer in ``Pete Kelly's Blues,'' and she was nominated for a supporting actress Oscar. She also appeared opposite Danny Thomas in an update of ``The Jazz Singer,'' but her film career was short-lived.

As Lee put it: ``My agents decided they could make more money from me on the road.''

Lee recorded more than 600 songs and wrote many others, including themes for the movies ``Johnny Guitar'' and ``The Heart Is a Lonely Hunter.'' Her return to recording in 1988 after a hiatus of more than a decade brought her one Grammy nomination for ``Miss Peggy Lee Sings the Blues'' in 1989 and another for ``The Peggy Lee Songbook: There'll Be Another Spring'' in 1991.

Lee summed up her life and career in the Broadway show ``Peg,'' which closed after 18 performances in 1984.

In addition to Barbour, Lee was married to actors Brad Dexter and Dewey Martin and percussionist Jack Del Rio. ``They weren't really weddings, just long costume parties,'' she once said.

In 1991, she won a landmark legal challenge over profits from videocassette sales of ``The Lady and the Tramp'' and was awarded $2.3 million. She also was among more than 200 musicians involved in a pending lawsuit against Vivendi Universal, claiming they were cheated out of millions in royalties at the Decca Records label.

Lee was a diabetic, and her health had steadily deteriorated over the past two decades. She underwent heart surgery in the 1980s and suffered a major stroke in 1998.

She is survived by a daughter, three grandchildren and three great-grandchildren.

Picked by The Wishman.