Jane Russell.. who shot to fame in Howard Hughes' 1941 Western The Outlaw, died Monday of respiratory failure, her family said. She was 89.
Although Russell made only a handful of films after the 1960s, she stayed active in her church, with charitable organizations and with a local singing group until her health began to decline just a couple weeks ago, said her daughter-in-law, Etta Waterfield. She died at her home in Santa Maria, Calif.
"She always said I'm going to die in the saddle, I'm not going to sit at home and become an old woman," Waterfield told The Associated Press. "And that's exactly what she did, she died in the saddle."
(She) had become a box-office star by starring with Bob Hope in the 1948 hit comedy-Western The Paleface. Her only other notable film was Gentlemen Prefer Blondes, a 1953 musical.
"Why did I quit movies?" she remarked in 1999. "Because I was getting too old! You couldn't go on acting in those years if you were an actress over 30."
She continued to appear in nightclubs, television and musical theater, including a stint on Broadway. She formed a singing group with Connie Haines and Beryl Davis, and they made records of gospel songs.
Russell was a political conservative and a born-again Christian years before the phrase became popular. She once promoted the use of the Bible in public schools.
Her mother was a lay preacher, and she encouraged the family to build a chapel in their back yard. Despite her mother's Christian preachings, young Jane had a wild side.
She and her first husband — Van Nuys High School sweetheart Bob Waterfield who went on to become a football star for UCLA and the Cleveland (later Los Angeles) Rams — were married for 23 years until they divorced in 1967. They adopted three children — Tracy, Thomas and Robert (Buck) — who survive her, along with six grandchildren and 10 great-grandchildren.
Russell recounted (in her 1985 autobiography, My Paths and Detours) that before her marriage to Waterfield (at age 19) she had had a botched abortion, which she thought might have affected her ability to have children.
She devoted much of the rest of her life campaigning for adoption and adopted children.
The couple's difficulties in adopting inspired her to form the World Adopting International Fund.. which has helped facilitate adoptions of more than 50,000 children from overseas. The organization closed in 1998.
She was the leader of the Hollywood Christian Group, a cluster of film people who gathered for Bible study and good works. She was a .. vocal opponent of abortion, even in cases of rape or incest (and) a tireless fighter to get the Bible back in schools.
Over the years Russell was also beset by alcoholism. Always she had been able to rebound from troubles by relying on lessons she learned from her Bible-preaching mother.
"Without faith, I never would have made it," she commented a few months after her third husband's death.
"I don't know how people can survive all the disasters in their lives if they don't have any faith, if they don't know the Lord loves them and cares about them and has another plan."
A public funeral is scheduled March 12 at 11 a.m. at Pacific Christian Church in Santa Maria.
In lieu of flowers the family (asked) that donations be made in her name to either the Care Net Pregnancy and Resource Center of Santa Maria or the Court Appointed Special Advocates of Santa Barbara County.