Whirlwind tap dancer and actress Ann Miller, who starred in such Hollywood musical classics as Easter Parade, On the Town, and Kiss Me Kate, died Thursday of lung cancer at age 81, a spokeswoman said. Miller, whose last screen performance was her supporting role as landlady Catherine "Coco" Lenoix in David Lynch's bizarre 2001 mystery Mulholland Dr., died at Cedars Sinai Medical Center, her longtime spokeswoman Esme Chandlee said. "She was a much better actress than people gave her credit for because she was always singing and dancing," Chandlee told Reuters.
Born and raised in Texas, Miller began dancing at age 5 as therapy for a childhood case of rickets and signed her first Hollywood contract with RKO as a teenager in the 1930s. Winning notice as Ginger Rogers's dancing partner in the 1937 film Stage Door, she landed supporting roles in a string of movies through the remainder of the decade, including Room Service with the Marx Brothers in 1938. In the early 1940s, she set a record for the fastest tap dancing, producing more than 500 tap sounds per minute. In 1948 she signed with MGM and danced with Fred Astaire in her first film for that studio, Easter Parade. She costarred with Gene Kelly, Frank Sinatra, and Betty Garrett the following year in On the Town and played Lois Lane and "Bianca" in the 1953 film version of Kiss Me Kate.