01/26/2006 at 08:00 AM EST
Fayard Nicholas, the elder half of the legendarily high-stepping Nicholas Brothers duo, died of pneumonia Tuesday at his home in Toluca Lake, near Los Angeles, say reports. He was 91.
The self-taught Nicholas Brothers – Fayard and younger brother Harold (who died in 2000) – tap-danced their way from vaudeville and Harlem's legendary Cotton Club to Broadway and Hollywood, where their costars included Gene Kelly, Judy Garland, Lena Horne and Betty Grable.
Credited with having inspired dancers from Fred Astaire to Savion Glover, the brothers coupled genius with amazing athleticism.
"My brother and I used our whole bodies, our hands, our personalities and everything," Nicholas said in an interview last year. "We tried to make it classic. We called our type of dancing classical tap, and we just hoped the audience liked it."
Both brothers had tumultuous personal lives. Harold admitted that his first marriage, to actress Dorothy Dandridge, collapsed because of his relentless womanizing. Dandridge, the first black woman nominated for a best-actress Oscar, died in 1965.
In a 1999 interview for A&E's Biography, Fayard said wistfully, "I tried to be a good husband and father. ... I don't know what happened."
But he remained on good terms with his first wife, Geraldine, and apparently maintained a long and happy marriage to his second wife, the late Barbara January. He wed dancer Katherine Hopkins six years ago, the Associated Press reports.