Tempest Storm, one of the most iconic figures — literally — in the world of burlesque, has died at 93.
The Las Vegas Review-Journal reports Storm died in her Las Vegas apartment Tuesday.
Storm had been in declining health following an April surgery on her hip, and was said to have been in the early stages of dementia.
The beloved striptease artist — whose name was practically synonymous with the craft — was surrounded by her longtime friend Harvey Robbins, who confirmed her passing, a BurlyCares nurse, and fellow burlesque performs Miss Redd and Kalani Kokonuts.
Robbins told the paper, "She was the last of the great legends in the golden age of burlesque. She was perhaps the biggest of all."
Born on February 29, 1928, in Eastman, Georgia, Annie Blanche Banks was the dirt-poor daughter of a sharecropper who was forced to make her own way in the world from the time she was 13.
Married twice by age 15, she fled to Hollywood, where she worked as a cocktail waitress until auditioning to be a striptease artist with Lillian Hunt, who managed talent at the Follies Theater.
Speaking with rock star Jack White in 2010, Storm recalled that Hunt greeted her with, "Take your clothes off." When Storm demurred, Hunt explained she needed to see if she had any scars. "I said, 'Trust me, I don't have any scars.' But I took my top off, so I said — these are the famous words — I said, 'Do you think my busts are too big for this business?' And she said, 'Of course not!' She said, 'They can't be too big in my business.'"
Making use of her movie-star beauty, her naturally voluptuous figure, and her unparalleled showmanship, the newly dubbed Tempest Storm was a sensation out of the gate. She was helped along when a group of Hollywood actors launched an Oscars spoof called the Mickey Awards, giving Tempest the Biggest Props in Hollywood Award. Appearing in newspapers across the country with Dean Martin and Jerry Lewis, Storm soaked up the publicity, rare for a woman in a profession borne of live appearances, one that was not often granted mass-media support.
Storm quickly became the highest-paid woman in burlesque history, knocking down $100,000 a year in the mid-'50s.
Her third of four husbands was Black recording artist and western actor Herb Jeffries. It was an interracial union she would later acknowledge probably cost her any chance at a Hollywood career. The marriage produced her only child, a daughter from who she was estranged. Their strained relationship was at the center of the 2016 documentary "Tempest Storm."
Storm's career was unusually long-lived in a profession associated with youthful beauty. The ageless star, who also appeared in iconic cheesecake photos with sex symbol Bettie Page, stripped as a headliner in Las Vegas from 1951 until 1989, and gave many other burlesque performances even later than that — including her final striptease, in 2010, which led to a career-ending hip fracture. She was 82 at the time.
She had become disenchanted with burlesque by then anyway, saying, "It's not the burlesque that I knew. I still, when I work, I do my performance like I used to, real classy. That's what it's all about — being classy and leaving something to the imagination."