Lotte Lenya, 83, the Vienna-born stage actress and singer, famed for her husky-voiced performance in "The Threepenny Opera" died of cancer Friday at the home of a friend in New York.
Distinctive and unforgettable, Miss Lenya was the widow of Kurt Weill, who composed the music for "The Threepenny Opera," and she created the role of Jenny when the show opened in Berlin in 1928.
She and her husband later fled the Nazis, and she survived to win the awed acclaim of hordes of new admirers after World War II when she opened in a new, production of the classic in 1955 in New York.
Sardonic, mocking and bitter, "The Threepenny Opera" symbolized for many the weary, disillusioned pessimism left behind in Germany and Europe by World War I.
By extension, Miss Lenya's raspy-voiced renditions of the show's songs seemed to symbolize both the cultural flowering of Germany in the Weimar period, and the grim vision it often embodied.
It was a period in which conventional concepts of art and culture were gleefully overturned, and Weill and Bertholt Brecht, who wrote the lyrics for his songs, were leaders of this revolution.
In the view of one observer of the period, Miss Lenya's voice, ordinary, untrained, stubbornly unoperatic, described as one octave below laryngitis, underscored the message that even opera, among the most bourgeois of art forms, was to belong from then on to the masses.
Miss Lenya was born Karoline Blumauer in a working class area of Vienna. Her mother was a laundress, her father a coachman. The lure of a circus based in her neighborhood made her a dancer at the age of six, a tightrope walker at eight.
Sent during World War I to live in Zurich with an aunt, she enrolled in dance classes, became an actress, and in the 1920s was performing in Berlin, Europe's theatrical capital.
Soon she met and married Weill, and went on to star not only in "The Threepenny Opera," but also in his controversial "The Rise and Fall of the City of Mahagonny."
Fleeing the Nazis, they went in 1933 to Paris, and two years later came to the U.S., where Miss Lenya appeared over the years both on Broadway (in "Cabaret") and in films. Her best known screen role was as Rosa Klebb, the villainous spy boss who wore footgear from which an assortment of cutlery projected in the James Bond movie, "From Russia, With Love."
"That's my road to fame, I'm afraid," she once said, smiling. "I still hear people say, 'Oh-oh, here she comes with those knives in her shoes.'"
After Weill died in 1950, she married an editor, George Davis, who died in 1957. Her third husband, painter Russell Detwiler, died in 1969.
For years, most of her professional and private life was devoted to preserving Weill's work. Nevertheless, she had a large personal following.
She made many records; she won a Tony for her role in the "Threepenny Opera" revival, and the lyrics of Louis Armstrong's rendition of "Mack the Knife," the theme from the show, incorporated her name.