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'Gone With The Wind' actress Alicia Rhett dies at 98

(Reuters) - Actress Alicia Rhett, who was the oldest surviving cast member of the classic 1939 film "Gone With The Wind", died in South Carolina on Friday, officials at her retirement community said. She was 98.

Savannah, Georgia-born Rhett portrayed India Wilkes, sister of Ashley Wilkes in the award-winning film based on Margaret Mitchell's Pulitzer Prize-winning historical novel of the same name.

"Truly a beautiful woman, her passion for the arts and love of Charleston were unrivaled... Alicia was a kind and gentle lady," said Bill Trawick, CEO of the Bishop Gadsden Episcopal Retirement Community in Charleston, where she had lived since 2002.

Other surviving cast members from "Gone With The Wind" are 97-year-old Olivia de Havilland who played Melanie Hamilton, Ashley Wilkes' cousin and wife; 93-year-old Mary Anderson, who played Maybelle Merriweather; and 81-year-old Mickey Kuhn, who played Beau Wilkes, Bishop Gadsden said.

Ann Rutherford, who played protagonist Scarlett O'Hara's optimistic younger sister in the film about white southerners in the American Civil War era, died in June 2012 in Los Angeles.

Rhett was born on February 1, 1915 and moved to Charleston with her mother after her father died in World War One, Bishop Gadsden said.

She was seen as "intensely private" and uninterested in the "trappings of celebrity," and preferred a quieter, art-filled life connected to the Deep South, according to a biography on Turner Classic Movies (TCM) website.

Rhett was the great-granddaughter of South Carolina senator Robert Brunwell Rhett, whose "anti-Union rhetoric and pro-slavery stance in the years leading up to the American Civil War earned him the sobriquet the Father of Secession," TCM added.

She was devoted to painting and illustration, producing on-set portraits of fellow actors, including her "Gone with the Wind" counterparts, and works seen in books, a state library, and a theater in the coastal city, Bishop Gadsden said.

Beside her work depicting high society, Rhett also volunteered to paint public school children, workers, and others at its periphery, TCM said.

She died at Bishop Gadsden at about 5 p.m. EST (2200 GMT), officials there said. The cause of death was not immediately known.

(Reporting by Eric M. Johnson in Seattle; Editing by Lisa Shumaker)

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