NEW YORK -- Ethel Merman, the brassy first lady of the Broadway musical stage who made the song 'There's No Business Like Show Business' part of America's heritage, died Wednesday 10 months after undergoing brain surgery. She was 75.
Miss Merman died at 5:30 a.m. in her apartment at the Hotel Surrey in Manhattan of natural causes, Medical Examiner Elliot Gross said. The exact cause of death was not disclosed. Her son Robert Levitt was at her side.
Miss Merman skyrocketed to fame in 1930 with the song 'I Got Rhythm' and starred in a string of Broadway musicals and films.
'The Statue of Liberty has fallen,' said Carol Channing on learning of her death.
Bob Hope, who starred with Miss Merman nearly 50 years ago in 'Red, Hot and Blue,' added 'show business has lost one of its greats.' pick up 4th graf: Up until x x x
A spokesman for Merman's family said that, according to Miss Merman's wisher, there will be no funeral service. The family is planning a memorial service, but details were not complete.
She is survived by her son, Robert Levitt Jr., and two grandchildren.
Up until last April, when she underwent brain surgery at Roosevelt Hospital in New York, she worked at the hospital as a volunteer, cheering patients and logging 880 hours in 10 years despite her hectic schedule.
'She made an awful lot of people happy,' said hospital spokeswoman Anne Burton. 'A visit from Ethel Merman, I can't tell you how much it cheered people. She'd say, 'That's right, honey, it's me. How are ya!''
When she first was stricken, the star with a voice like a brass band was preparing to go to the West Coast to perform a tribute medley of Irving Berlin songs.
The musical first lady got her big break with the hit 'I Got Rhythm' from 'Girl Crazy' in 1930, the same musical that gave Ginger Rogers her first break.
On one occasion, Miss Merman held a C note for a spectacular 16 bars in that tune.
More than 50 years later, she reminisced in a 1982 interview with United Press International Audio network.
'I was in 'Girl Crazy' and I had 'I Got Rhythm' to sing and it was like a media event -- overnight,' she said. 'One day I was nobody, and the next day they said, 'Watch this Merman girl!''
Asked if she ever planned to retire, the indefatigable star said, 'As long as the voice holds out, I'll be belting them out. Or singing my balads ... or what have you.'
Miss Merman, known to her friends as 'Eth,' was born Ethel Zimmerman on Jan. 16, 1909, in Astoria, N.Y. Her mother said Ethel began singing before she was 5 years old.
During World War I, Miss Merman sang for the soldiers in camps near Astoria before making her professional singing debut at the Little Russia Cafe in New York City. She was discovered by agent Lou Irwin, who got her a movie contract with Warner Bros. for $200 a week.
But after six months she returned to New York, where she worked with Paul Ash's Orchestra at Brooklyn Paramount until she was signed for 'Girl Crazy.'
A successful string of musicals followed, including 'Anything Goes' in 1934, 'Red, Hot and Blue' in 1936, 'Panama Hattie' in 1940 and 'Gypsy' in 1959, where she sang 'Everything's Coming Up Roses.'
She was married and divorced four times -- to agent William Smith, advertising executive Robert Levitt, Continental Airlines president Robert Six and actor Ernest Borgnine. She had her only two children with Levitt.
The singer returned to the stage in 1946 in Berlin's 'Annie Get Your Gun' and had another hit with 'Call Me Madame' in 1950. She took her first non-musical movie role in 1962 in 'It's a Mad, Mad, Mad, Mad World.'
Other films included 'We're Not Dressing' and 'Kid Millions' in 1934, 'BigBroadcast of 1936,' 'Strike Me Pink' in 1936, 'Anything Goes' in 1936, 'Happy Landing' in 1938, 'Alexander's Ragtime Band,' 'Straight, Place and Show,' 'Stage Door Canteen' and 'There's No Business Like Show Business.'
'We'll never see a presence on stage like that again,' said Russell Nype, her co-star in 'Call Me Madame.' 'She was the greatest musical comedy star the world has ever known.'