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Last Updated: Tuesday, 6 February 2007, 11:33 GMT
Hollywood star McNair dies at 72
Barbara McNair
McNair hosted her own TV variety show in the 1960s
Singer and actress Barbara McNair, who starred opposite Mary Tyler Moore and Elvis Presley, has died aged 72.

Starting out as a nightclub singer, she moved into film and TV as opportunities for black women opened up in the 1960s, eventually hosting her own show.

Her best known film role came as Sidney Poitier's wife in the classic crime drama They Call Me Mister Tibbs! and its 1971 sequel The Organization.

McNair died on Sunday after a long battle with cancer, her husband said.

"She was the strongest person I knew," said Charles Blecka, who was her fourth husband.

"If she set her sights to do something, she did it and did it in a dignified way."

Steamy photos

McNair was born in Racine, Wisconsin in 1934 and was interested in showbusiness from an early age, singing in churches and at school.

After studying at the University of California, she pursued a singing career, and made her Broadway debut in the short-lived 1958 musical The Body Beautiful. She made cameos in hit shows such as Dr Kildare, Hogan's Heroes and Mission: Impossible.

Barbara McNair
McNair was one of the first black TV stars in the US
As she gained notice in Hollywood, she posed for Playboy magazine - later admitting the steamy photos "helped my career immensely."

Her film debut came in 1968's If He Hollers, Let Him Go and, just a year later, she was cast alongside Elvis Presley in his last film, Change Of Habit.

From 1969, she hosted television's The Barbara McNair Show, at a time when few black women were given such opportunities. Guests included Tony Bennett, Sonny and Cher and Bob Hope.

At around the same time she accompanied Hope on a tour of Vietnam, despite opposing the war.

But in 1972 she was accused of drug possession along with her then-husband, Rick Manzie, after she signed for a package delivered to her dressing room.

Manzie, who was fined and placed on a year's probation over the incident, was later shot dead in the couple's Las Vegas home.

"You can spend all this time building something and it can be destroyed in a minute," the actress said in 1979.

Acting roles dwindled for McNair in the 1970s and 80s but made occasional TV appearances on shows such as The Jeffersons.

Her sister said she sang professionally until the middle of last year, when the spreading cancer hurt her ability to perform.

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