Sexy and sultry Eartha Kitt died on Christmas Day in her Connecticut home at the age of 81. The singer, dancer and actress succumbed to colon cancer, Andrew Freedman, a family spokesman said. Kitt was a champion of civil rights, including gay and lesbian equality.

With a career that spanned six decades of Emmy-winning and Tony-and Grammy-nominated performances, Kitt did it all.

She started as a dancer in Vaudeville and found fame in movies and on television.

Living in the South, the product of a mixed-race marriage, she battled an unhappy childhood that included being left to live with relatives after her mother's new husband objected to taking her in.

As an adult, Kitt would say the risqué stage persona that made her famous was all an act. She described herself as shy; traumatized by her family's abandonment.

“I'm an orphan,” she told the Post online. “But the public has adopted me and that has been my only family. The biggest family in the world is my fans.”

Kitt's childhood explains the fierce loyalty she had to her fans and her devotion to equality.

“I feel very close to the gay crowd because we know what it feels like to be rejected,” she told the Chicago-based gay weekly Windy City Times in 2005.

In her gay media interview, Kitt agreed with proponents of gay marriage, calling the issue a civil right.

“We were not allowed to go through certain doors because of race, our color. It was so stupid that we were not able to sit at the counter of a restaurant because it was only for Anglo-Saxons. It's stupid when this country says it was born on 'freedom for all', but it's 'freedom for some'!” she said.

“I support it [gay marriage] because we're asking for the same thing. If I have a partner and something happens to me, I want that partner to enjoy the benefits of what we have reaped together.”

“It's a civil-rights thing, isn't it?” she added.

Kitt is survived by a daughter, Kitt Shapiro, and two grandchildren, Jason and Rachel.