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Annette Charles, 63; played Cha Cha in the movie ‘Grease’

By Shaya Tayefe Mohajer
Associated Press / August 6, 2011

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LOS ANGELES - Actress Annette Charles, best-known for her role as Cha Cha DiGregorio in “Grease,’’ has died. She was 63.

Longtime friend Tom LaBonge, a Los Angeles councilman, said she died in the city after a battle with cancer. She died Wednesday night, said her agent, Derek Maki.

Her death comes about two months after the death of fellow “Grease’’ actor Jeff Conaway, whose character Kenickie was Cha Cha’s date at a dance.

Oozing a sultry confidence on film, Ms. Charles introduced her character at the dance by saying, “They call me Cha Cha, ‘cause I’m the best dancer at St. Bernadette’s.’’

“ . . . with the worst reputation,’’ responded Frenchie, played by actress Didi Conn.

Ms. Charles also appeared on many television shows during the 1970s and early 1980s, including “Barnaby Jones,’’ “The Bionic Woman,’’ “Magnum, P.I.,’’ “Bonanza,’’ “Gunsmoke,’’ and “The Flying Nun.’’

She later became a speech professor under her birth name, Annette Cardona, at California State University, Northridge.

In “Grease’’, Ms. Charles played a leggy, red-lipped bad girl with an appetite for bad boys. Her role as a gyrating vixen presented a sex-charged challenge to the film’s prudish leading lady, the angelic and “lousy with virginity’’ Sandy Olsen, played by Olivia Newton John.

In a dance scene inside the school gym, performed to Sha Na Na’s “Born To Hand Jive,’’ her character twirled and kicked alongside Kenickie before moving to seduce John Travolta’s character, bad boy greaser Danny Zuko, on the dance floor.

Full of jubilant dance scenes, the musical was Travolta’s hotly anticipated follow-up to another heavily-choreographed blockbuster, “Saturday Night Fever.’’