06/17/2008 at 05:00 PM EDT
Movie dancer Cyd Charisse – whose elegant legwork wooed Fred Astaire in such classic '50s musicals as The Band Wagon and Silk Stockings and Gene Kelly in Singin' in the Rain and Brigadoon – died early Tuesday at Cedars-Sinai Medical Center after suffering an apparent heart attack, says her rep. She was 86.
The resident MGM ballet dancer at the height of Hollywood's golden era of musicals had danced in the Ballet Russes before landing at the studio – though for all the glamour she exuded, Charisse, who was adored by her coworkers, was often referred to by her real name, Tula Finklea, from Amarillo Texas.
Kelly, an ardent fan of his beautiful brunette costar, would often lament that MGM didn't really know what to do with her, and once the studio system collapsed, Charisse made only the occasional appearance, often on TV or in nightclubs with her husband since 1948, singer Tony Martin. (Her first husband, from 1939-47, was the dancer Nico Charisse.)
Martin, who earlier this year – at age 95 – performed a well-received live performance at Feinstein's cabaret in New York, survives her.
– Stephen M. Silverman