Actress and singer was known for cigar ads

Actress and singer Edie Adams, the blonde beauty who won a Tony Award for bringing Daisy Mae to life on Broadway and who played the television foil to her husband, comedian Ernie Kovacs, has died. She was 81.

Adams died Wednesday in a Los Angeles hospital from pneumonia and cancer, publicist Henri Bollinger said.

A graduate of Juilliard School of Music, Adams hoped to become an opera singer but instead went on to gain fame for her sketches with Kovacs and her pivotal roles in two top Broadway musicals.

For nearly two decades, she also was the sexy spokeswoman for Muriel cigars, singing and breathily cooing in TV commercials: “Why don't you pick one up and smoke it sometime?”

She first attracted notice on the TV show “Arthur Godfrey's Talent Scouts.” Kovacs was then performing his innovative comedy show on a Philadelphia TV station, and his director saw her and invited her to audition.

“Here was this guy with the big mustache, the big cigar and the silly hat,” she recalled in 1982. “I thought, ‘I don't know what this is, but it's for me.'”

When she auditioned for the Kovacs show, she knew a lot about opera but only three pop songs, she recalled.

“I sang them all during the audition, and if they had asked to hear another, I never would have made it,” she said.

With her innocent face and refreshing manner, Adams became the ideal partner for Kovacs' far-out humor. They eloped to Mexico City in 1954.

Kovacs moved his show — which appeared in various guises in the 1950s and early 1960s — to New York, where he became the darling of critics and discriminating viewers and hugely influential on other comedians. Both Kovacs and Adams garnered Emmy nominations in 1957 for best performances in a comedy series.

Adams found success on Broadway as well.

In 1957, she won a Tony for best featured (supporting) actress in a musical for her role as Daisy Mae in “Li'l Abner,” based on Al Capp's satirical comic strip.

She and Kovacs moved to Hollywood in the late 1950s, and both became active in films.

In early 1962, Kovacs left a star-filled baby shower for Mrs. Milton Berle and crashed his car into a light pole, dying instantly. He had been a carefree gambler and profligate buyer of unneeded things.

His widow was faced with debts of $520,000, trouble with the Internal Revenue Service and a nasty custody battle over Kovacs' daughters, Betty and Kippie, from his first marriage. She and Kovacs also had a daughter Mia, born in 1959.

She won custody of her stepdaughters, tearfully telling reporters after the verdict: “This is the way Ernie would have wanted it.”