LOS ANGELES (AP) _ Audrey Meadows, who as Alice on the 1950s comedy ``The Honeymooners″ played one of television’s strongest, most spirited wives, died of lung cancer, her sister said Sunday.
She died at 8:50 p.m. Saturday at Cedars-Sinai Medical Center, according to Beverly Callison, an assistant to Meadows’ manager Ray Katz.
Meadows, whose birthday would have been Thursday, was 69, according to Callison. Reference books, however, put her age at 71.
She had kept her illness a secret, even from her sister Jayne Meadows, until newspapers learned of her hospitalization early this year.
``My fervent prayers are with my dear sister, Audrey, who has for months fought a brave and private battle with lung cancer,″ Jayne Meadows, who co-stars on the CBS series ``High Society″ and is married to entertainer Steve Allen, said in a prepared statement.
Audrey Meadows starred with Jackie Gleason as lovebirds and sparring partners Ralph and Alice Kramden in ``The Honeymooners.″ Meadows held her own against the bigger-than-life Gleason and his blustering bus driver.
``To the moon, Alice!″ was Ralph’s oft-heard cry, an unfulfilled threat to deliver a shot _ ``Pow!″ _ to the kisser. Alice was unfazed, and many shows ended with hugs and Ralph’s admission, ``Baby, you’re the greatest.″
Art Carney and Joyce Randolph played neighbors Ed and Trixie Norton on the comedy.
``She was a wonderful lady, wonderfully talented,″ said Randolph, who first met Meadows in the summer of 1954 in Louisville, Ky., during a revival of ``No, No Nanette.″
``I thought, `Oh, what a zippy lady,′ ″ Randolph said. The two remained friends through the years.
Randolph said she’s been chatting with Carney, who was very upset to hear about Meadows’ death.
The comedy has enjoyed enduring popularity and ranks as a TV classic.
``Jackie’s answer was simply that it was funny,″ Meadows said in a 1993 interview with The Associated Press.
She offered her own theory: ``I think it was so well-written, and the chemistry between the four of us just happened.″
A ``Honeymooners″ memoir by Meadows, ``Love, Alice,″ was published in 1994. In an AP interview that year, she described Alice’s special appeal, and Ralph’s.
``I loved that character of Alice, because she was strong and she was tender. She was everything that I think is fine in a woman,″ she said. ``Why did she stay with Ralph? Because she understood him _ and he obviously was thin when she married him.″
Meadows’ birthplace is listed as Wu Chang, China in Who’s Who in America and her personal biography material. However, family members said she was born in New York, publicist Miriam Levin of Warren Cowans Associates said Sunday.
Her sister persuaded her to join in a Broadway bid when both were teen-agers.
Audrey Meadows went on to a Carnegie Hall debut as a coloratura soprano, performed light opera and won a 1951 Broadway role in ``Top Banana″ with Phil Silvers.
She appeared as a singer and sketch comedian on TV shows, taking over the role of Alice in the ``Honeymooners″ sketches on CBS’ ``The Jackie Gleason Show″ in 1952. She won an Emmy for the role in 1955.
Pert Kelton had originated Alice on a variety show Gleason did for the now-defunct DuMont network, but lost work as a victim of the McCarthy era blacklist. Sheila MacRae played Alice in a 1960s version.
Meadows stayed with Gleason until 1957, then played occasional guest roles on TV dramas and appeared on panel shows throughout the 1950s and ’60s.
She virtually retired from acting after her marriage to Continental Airlines chairman Robert Six, turning her attention to business activities and her family.
Meadows returned to television in 1977 for a series of ``Honeymooners″ reunions and went on to other roles, including a recurring part as Ted Knight’s mother-in-law on the 1980s sitcom ``Too Close for Comfort.″
Her husband died in 1986 at age 79. Gleason died in 1987; he was 71.
Aside from her sister, Meadows is survived by two nephews and two nieces.
The funeral will be private. No date has been set.
The family has asked that in lieu of flowers contributions be sent to the American Red Cross or Friends of the Children.