Liliane Montevecchi, the French-born actress, singer and dancer who won a Tony Award for her showstopping role as the producer in “Nine,” died on Friday at her home in Manhattan. She was 85.
Her friend Marc Rosen, who confirmed the death, said the cause was colon cancer.
Ms. Montevecchi was 50 and a runaway from American film and television when she was cast in “Nine,” the 1982 Broadway musical drama about a film director’s midlife crisis, based on the Federico Fellini film “8½.”
The role of the movie producer had been written for a man, but the character was reworked so Ms. Montevecchi, who didn’t fit anywhere else in the show, could be cast. In “Folies Bergère,” her big number, she reveled in the joys of the good old days of show business, stopped to chat flirtatiously with audience members and ended up gloriously wrapped in a 30-foot-long black feather boa.
Frank Rich’s review in The New York Times described her as “a knockout — a glorious amalgam of music-hall feistiness and balletic grace, with Toulouse-Lautrec shadows about the eyes.” She received the Tony for best featured actress in a musical, beating two of her own “Nine” co-stars, Karen Akers and Anita Morris.
“Nine” was neither Ms. Montevecchi’s first Broadway show, although the earlier ones had been revues (“La Plume de Ma Tante” in 1958, “Folies Bergère” in 1964), nor her last. She earned another Tony nomination, for a 1989 musical adaptation of “Grand Hotel,” in which she was Grushinskaya, the high-strung ballerina, nostalgic for her glory days, played by Greta Garbo in the 1932 film.
Later, when she worked in cabaret, Stephen Holden of The Times called her “an imperial presence.”
Liliane Dina Montevecchi was born on Oct. 13, 1932, in Paris, the only child of Franco Montevecchi, an Italian-born painter, and Janine Trinquet Montevecchi, a French-born hat designer. The couple soon divorced.
Liliane began taking ballet lessons when she was 9 or so and appearing onstage soon afterward. At 18, she was in Roland Petit’s company Les Ballets de Paris, where she became a prima ballerina. After she made her film debut in a small role in “Femmes de Paris” (1953), Hollywood called. She did two 1955 films, “The Glass Slipper” and “Daddy Long Legs,” both starring her countrywoman Leslie Caron and featuring Mr. Petit’s choreography.
MGM signed her to a seven-year contract, but American movies largely wasted her. Over the next three years, she appeared in an odd assortment of small roles in seven films, including the war drama “The Young Lions” (1958), with Marlon Brando, in which she played a French escort with strong views about Nazis; the Jerry Lewis comedy “The Sad Sack” (1957), as a saucy, skimpily clad club performer in Morocco; and the Elvis Presley musical drama “King Creole” (1958), as a saucy, skimpily clad club performer in New Orleans.
After a few television roles in series like “77 Sunset Strip” and “Playhouse 90,” she returned to dancing, her first love, joining the Folies-Bergère in Las Vegas in 1964. She worked with that troupe and the Paris company for nine years.
In 1982, basking in her new Broadway acclaim, she began her cabaret career. John S. Wilson of The Times called her first engagement, at Les Mouches in New York, a “brilliant, breathlessly fast-moving act.” In her solo shows, she sang in both English and French, exuding confidence and style and nailed the double-entendres for decades. She also appeared in an acclaimed 1998 all-star revival of “Follies” at the Paper Mill Playhouse in New Jersey; it seemed Broadway bound but never transferred.
Ms. Montevecchi, who was said never to have married, is survived by her longtime companion, Claudio Borin, who lives in Italy. “I’m set in my ways, and I’ve lived all my life alone,” she said in a 1982 television-news interview. “I don’t trust people a lot.” She sometimes told friends about an impulsive wedding in Las Vegas and a marriage that lasted two weeks, but she never revealed the man’s name or provided evidence, they said.
She eventually returned to motion pictures, this time as a character actress. Her last film was “4 Days in France” (2016), as a rural Frenchwoman who gives advice to a lovelorn young gay man (“Don’t run after people”). Before that, she appeared in “How to Lose a Guy in 10 Days” (2003) as a diamond magnate’s wife who flirts shamelessly with Matthew McConaughey.
She never retired from cabaret performances, appearing at Feinstein’s 54/Below for the last time in 2016. “She didn’t know it was her last engagement,” Steven Minichiello, a close friend, recalled. “She expected to heal and go on forever. She was the master class in stage presence.”
In 2016, Ms. Montevecchi told the Woman Around Town website: “After all these years, it’s not O.K. to just do a show. Because you know more, you want to give more.”