Tempest Storm, the often-flame-haired striptease artist, burlesque performer, star of early Russ Meyer films and later a rock generation icon, died Tuesday in her Las Vegas apartment. She was 93.
Her death was reported to the Las Vegas Review-Journal by Storm’s longtime friend and business partner Harvey Robbins. Storm had been suffering from dementia and recently underwent hip surgery.
Robbins was at Storm’s home when she died, as were a nurse and Las Vegas burlesque performers Kalani Kokonuts and Miss Redd.
According to the Burlesque Hall of Fame, Storm was born Annie Blanche Banks in Eastman, GA, and at the age of 20, already twice-married, moved to Hollywood. At first working as a cocktail waitress, she soon found work as a striptease performer with the Follies Theater. She adopted the stage name Tempest Storm in 1950 and, shortly after her arrival in L.A. became friends with neighbor Marilyn Monroe.
The list of famous acquaintances, friends and fans would continue to expand with Rat Pack superstars, classic rockers like the James Gang and, in the 21st century, musician Jack White.
By the mid-1950s, Storm had become an internationally famous nightclub performer and was featured in the early Meyer exploitation films French Peep Show (1950), Paris After Midnight (1951) and Striptease Girl (1952). In 1955, she shared the screen with Bettie Page in Irving Klaw’s destined-for-cult-classic Teaserama. The following year, Storm starred in Klaw’s Buxom Beauties.
According to the Review-Journal, in 1956 Storm became the highest-paid burlesque performer in history with a 10-year contract for $100,000 a year with the Bryan-Engels burlesque production company. She first performed in Las Vegas in 1951, and in 1957 began performing at the Dunes Hotel and Casino. She headlined on the Strip until the late 1980s.
Among her well-publicized — or at the very least highly rumored — paramours were Elvis Presley, Mickey Rooney, Louis Armstrong, Sammy Davis Jr., gangster Mickey Cohen and even John F. Kennedy. She said in an interview once that Frank Sinatra introduced her from the audience during a concert, saying, “She taught me how to dress,” and when the crowd applauded, Sinatra added, “You thought I would say she taught me how to undress!”
Storm married Herb Jeffries, a jazz singer with Duke Ellington’s Orchestra, in 1959, a marriage she later said cost her a manager and a film career because Jeffries was Black.
In 1973, Storm shared a tour with the Joe Walsh-fronted rock band the James Gang that included a stop at New York’s Carnegie Hall. “That was the greatest,” she said later. “What a thrill.”
Storm, who moved to Las Vegas in 2005, gave her final performance in June 2010 at a Burlesque Hall of Fame reunion show. Later that night, she fractured her left hip, ending her stage appearances, but in 2011 she was interviewed by rocker Jack White for an album called Interview with Tempest Storm, released through White’s own company.
A documentary about her life, called Tempest Storm: Burlesque Queen, directed by Nimisha Mukerji, was released in 2016. Watch the trailer below.