February 2, 1996
Web posted at: 9:40 p.m. EST
LOS ANGELES (CNN) -- Gene Kelly, the dancer and choreographer whose joyful splashing in puddles in the classic "Singin' in the Rain" endeared him to viewers worldwide, died Friday. He was 83.
The star of some of Hollywood's greatest musicals in the 1940s and 1950s, Kelly died in his sleep from complications related to two previous strokes, according to his longtime publicist, Warren Cowan. His wife, Patricia, was at his side, Cowan said.
A dancer's dancer, Kelly's film legacy spanned more than three decades with movies such as "On The Town," "Anchors Aweigh," and "It's Always Fair Weather."
After his film debut opposite Judy Garland in "For Me and My Gal" in 1942, Kelly's "poetry in motion" soon made him one of MGM studio's star draws. In an era when musicals reigned, Garland was to be the first of a string of leading ladies whom Kelly literally swept off their feet.
In an interview to the Los Angeles Times in 1994, Kelly talked about his affinity for his leading ladies. "You must make the lady look good," he said. "If she looks good I think the dance will look good."
Kelly choreographed many of his films and even tried his hand at direction. He co-directed "On the Town" with Stanley Donen in 1949, declaring it his favorite film "It was my first directing job and I loved it for the ground it broke," he said.
His co-star in the film, Ann Miller, remembers him as "just so handsome." "He was marvelous because he was ballet-trained as well as being a hoofer, and he had a lot of sex with it."
"There will only be one Gene Kelly."
-- Ann Miller, Gene's Kelly's co-star in "On The Town."
His raw energy was perhaps best captured in that famous sequence in "Singin' in the Rain," which showcased his agile grace and Irish charm. Debbie Reynolds was only 18 when she starred opposite Kelly and Donald O'Connor in the 1952 movie.
According to Donen, Kelly brought a "sort of brash, lovable quality" to his movies -- a quality which Kelly apparently prided himself on.
In the 1994 interview, Kelly said he never wanted to dance "like all those rich people in suits, because they hid the line of your body." "I wanted to show that line. I trained for years to do it so I danced in sweatshirts, rolled up sleeves, moccasins, socks, jeans, khakis, and so forth."
"He could do anything and did everything."
-- "Singin' in the Rain" co-star Debbie Reynolds
Kelly's most inspiring performance came with "An American in Paris," in which he created the dances. The highlight of the movie was the 17-minute ballet where Kelly and Leslie Caron moved fluidly to George Gershwin's music. The scene cost $500,000.
The film won the Academy Award as best picture of 1951, and Kelly was given a special award "in appreciation of his versatility as actor, singer, director and dancer, and especially for his brilliant achievements in the art of choreography on film."
Kelly always tried to elevate dance to an art-form in films. His first work as solo director was "Invitation to the Dance" (1956), which contained no dialogue.
"We had a great group of people who were all very serious about making musicals an indigenous American art form," he said in 1994. "And we succeeded -- of course, not without some yelling at studio heads."
Kelly also had serious acting roles, and directed "Hello, Dolly!" and other films.
Born on August 23, 1912, in Pittsburgh, Kelly was a dance instructor and then a successful Broadway hoofer before he began his screen career.
Kelly's last movie as a performer was the 1980 flop "Xanadu." Co-starring with Olivia Newton-John, he performed on roller skates, something he had done with his brother Fred 35 years before. More recently, he reminisced in the 1994 compilation film "That's Entertainment III."
In 1989, "Singin' in the Rain" was one of the first 25 films selected by the Library of Congress for its National Film Registry of significant movies.
Kelly was inevitably compared to another great dancer, Fred Astaire, who began his film career a decade before Kelly.
But Kelly protested that their styles were very different. "People would compare us, but we didn't dance alike at all," he said in a 1994 Los Angeles Times interview.
"Fred danced in tails -- everybody wore them before I came out here -- but I took off my coat, rolled up my sleeves and danced in sweatshirts and jeans and khakis."
The pair danced together only twice: as two friends in "Ziegfeld Follies" (1946), and at the end of their dancing careers in a light-footed duet for "That's Entertainment Part II."
Kelly had more unusual dance partners in the 1945 film "Anchors Aweigh," sharing the screen with cartoon characters such as Tom and Jerry. The film, which also co-starred Frank Sinatra and Kathryn Grayson, won him an Oscar nomination as best actor.
Socially an amiable man, Kelly was a taskmaster on a movie set, sometimes showing flashes of temper. He kept his personal life private and often seemed uncomfortable with interviewers' questions.
On his 80th birthday in 1992, he remained at a private vacation spot, releasing one comment: "It's only another round number."
In 1940 Kelly married actress Betsy Blair, and they had a daughter, Kerry. The marriage ended in divorce in 1957. In 1960 he married his dance assistant, Jeanne Coyne, and they had a daughter, Bridget, and son, Timothy. Kelly raised the children after his wife's death in 1973. In 1990, at age 77, he married writer Patricia Ward, 36.
No funeral was planned, Cowan said.
AP contributed to this report.
Copyright © 1996 Cable News Network, Inc.
ALL RIGHTS RESERVED.
External sites are not endorsed by CNN Interactive.