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Actress and jazz singer Annie Ross dies aged 89

British-American actress and Jazz singer Annie Ross who starred in The Wicker Man and Superman III has died aged 89. 

The performer passed away at her home in Manhattan, New York, on Tuesday as a result of emphysema and heart disease, according to her manager Jim Coleman.

Ross was born in Mitcham, south London in July 1930 to Scottish vaudeville artists John and Mary Short, who took her to New York when she was four.     

She rose to fame after winning a radio talent show and a film contract, later playing Judy Garland’s sister in the 1943 musical comedy Presenting Lily Mars at 13. 

Ross, who began her career as a child star dubbed ‘Scotland’s Shirley Temple’, went on to feature in films including Robert Altman’s Short Cuts and Superman III. 

She provided the speaking voice for Swedish actress Britt Ekland in Robin Hardy’s 1973 horror The Wicker Man. 

Ross was also the singing voice of Ingrid Thulin in the 1976 drama Salon Kitty. 

Throughout her career, Ross excelled as a jazz singer and recorded music both as a solo artist and as a trio with Dave Lambert and Jon Hendrick. 

She wrote the song Let’s Fly at 14, which won a competition and was recorded by Johnny Mercer and the Pied Pipers.

In 1947, she went to Paris to work with Charlie Parker and Dizzy Gillespie. Here, she met drummer Kenny Clarke, with whom she had a son – Kenny Clarke Junior.  

She wrote the hit vocalese song Twisted at the age of 22, which was later covered by Joni Mitchell and Bette Midler, alongside recording seven albums with Lambert, Hendricks and Ross.

But she left the trio and New York in order to beat a heroin addiction, the Guardian reported. She said: ‘I kind of knew that if I came back to America I might die.’ 

In 1984, Ross opened her own nightclub in London, Annie’s Room, alongside her husband Sean Lynch. 

She later returned to acting after declaring bankruptcy, starring in numerous films including Alfie Darling, Straight On till Morning, Funny Money and Richard Lester’s Superman III.  

Tributes have poured in for the performer since her death was announced today, with singer Barb Jungr describing her as ‘a great woman with soul and swing.’

She said: ‘RIP the late, great Annie Ross, whom I was lucky enough to be befriended by over my stays & performances in NYC.

‘They broke the mould. It’s raining in her honour in Scotland, I hope the Great Bar In The Sky is ready for a great woman with soul and swing.’ 

Gill Parry, the producer of No One But Me – a 2012 documentary film about Ross – also paid tribute to the ‘extraordinary woman’.

She told the BBC: ‘She lived for jazz, loved music and musicians, was massively talented, funny, classy, sharp, glamorous, cool.

‘Annie was a cultural trailblazer, but above everything she was a moving and important singer and lyricist who inhabited her songs and came alive on stage.

‘Annie lived a jazz life, and she inspired great friendship and devotion along the way.’ 

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