Katharine Hepburn, Hollywood's stylish legend, dies aged 96

Katherine Hepburn, the Hollywood legend immortalised in a career spanning six decades, died last night. She was 96.

The actress, whose award-winning performances featured in films including The Philadelphia Story and The African Queen, died at her home in Old Saybrook, Connecticut, following a recent decline in her health.

Her acting career, which lasted for more than 60 years, was crowned with four Academy Awards and 12 nominations, a record surpassed only by the actress Meryl Streep earlier this year.

But her private and professional lives were consistently characterised with her trademark forthright manner and refusal to be taken in by the trappings of fame.

"Life's what's important," she once said. "Walking, houses, family. Birth and pain and joy - and then death. Acting's just waiting for the custard pie. That's all."

Born into a wealthy family in New England, Hepburn appeared on Broadway before moving to Hollywood to star in the film A Bill of Divorcement opposite John Barrymore in 1932. Her oft-imitated voice and her laid-back glamour made her an instant hit. But it was her third film, Morning Glory, that won her first Oscar.

She was married briefly and her name was linked to a number of famous men, but it was not until 1942 that she to meet the love of her life, Spencer Tracy.

While the pair made nine films together and remained close companions until Tracy's death in 1967, Hepburn rarely divulged details of their relationship. The actor never divorced his wife, who outlived him by 15 years. "I have had 20 years of perfect companionship with a man among men," she said in 1963 in a rare reference to her partner. "He is a rock and a protection. I've never regretted it."

The following decade, she split her work between stage and film, creating an eclectic portfolio of parts, from her memorable screen role The African Queen to a stage production of Shakespeare's As You Like It. She worked with the most acclaimed actors and actresses of her generation, including Elizabeth Taylor, Montgomery Clift, Cary Grant and Laurence Olivier.

During the 1960s she won two Oscars for Guess Who's Coming TO Dinner and A Lion in Winter before winning her final Academy Award alongside Henry Fonda in 1981 in On Golden Pond. As she got older, despite growing health problems, she appeared incapable of slowing down the relentless pace of her career. Splitting her time between New York and Connecticut, she was restless with energy as late as in her 70s.

It was in 1982 that she nearly lost a foot in a car accident and spent almost three weeks in a hospital. But by the end of the year she was back before the cameras in Grace Quigley.

Nine years ago, in one of her final performances, Warren Beatty persuaded Hepburn to fly to Los Angeles to star as his aunt in the romantic comedy Love Affair.

Powerful diva who embodied golden age, page 9

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