Katharine Hepburn, an icon of feminist strength and spirit who brought a chiseled beauty and patrician bearing to such films as The Philadelphia Story and The African Queen, died Sunday. She was 96. A frequent collaborator with out director George Cukor, Hepburn was idolized by gay and lesbian film fans worldwide.
Hepburn died at 2:50 p.m. at her home in Old Saybrook, Conn., said Cynthia McFadden, a friend of Hepburn and executor of her estate. Hepburn, who had been in declining health in recent years, died of old age and was surrounded by family, McFadden said. "It's been a sad day, but a celebration of her life as well," she said. The lights will dim on Broadway at 8 p.m. Tuesday in her honor, said Patricia Armetta-Haubner, a spokeswoman for the League of American Theaters and Producers.
"I think every actress in the world looked up to her with a kind of reverence and a sense of 'Oh, boy, if only I could be like her,'" actress Elizabeth Taylor said. "I am so glad that she and Spence [Spencer Tracy] are finally together again." During her career of over 60 years, Hepburn won a record four Academy Awards and was nominated 12 times, which stood as a record until Meryl Streep surpassed her nomination total in 2003. Her Oscars were for Morning Glory (1933), Guess Who's Coming to Dinner (1967), The Lion in Winter (1968), and On Golden Pond (1981).
Despite her success, Hepburn always felt she could have done more. "I could have accomplished three times what I've accomplished," she once said. "I haven't realized my full potential. It's disgusting." But she added, "Life's what's important. Walking, houses, family. Birth and pain and joy--and then death. Acting's just waiting for the custard pie. That's all."
Hepburn, the product of a wealthy, freethinking New England family, was forthright in her opinions and unconventional in her conduct. She dressed for comfort, usually in slacks and sweater, with her red hair caught up in a topknot. She married only once, briefly, and her name was linked to Howard Hughes and other famous men, but the great love of her life was Spencer Tracy. The two made nine films together and remained close companions until Tracy's death in 1967.