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

By Mayra Cuevas and Greg Botelho, CNN
January 4, 2014 -- Updated 1630 GMT (0030 HKT)
Alicia Rhett was cast as India Wilkes, sister of plantation owner Ashley Wilkes, in
Alicia Rhett was cast as India Wilkes, sister of plantation owner Ashley Wilkes, in "Gone With the Wind."
STORY HIGHLIGHTS
  • Alicia Rhett played India Wilkes in the 1939 classic "Gone With the Wind"
  • After the film, she headed back to Charleston and worked as an artist
  • She died of natural causes at a retirement community, a spokesman says

(CNN) -- Alicia Rhett, who had been one of the oldest surviving cast member of the classic film "Gone With the Wind," died Friday in her longtime hometown of Charleston, South Carolina, a retirement community spokeswoman said.

Rhett passed away of natural causes around 5 p.m. surrounded by friends at Bishop Gadsden Episcopal Retirement Community, said Kimberly Farfone Borts, a spokeswoman for the community.

She was 98.

Born in Savannah, Georgia, Rhett moved with her mother to Charleston after her father died during World War I, according to Borts. Her roots to the South trace back even deeper: According to her biography on the Turner Classic Movies website -- which, like CNN, is a unit of Time Warner -- she was the great-granddaughter of U.S. Sen. Robert Rhett, known as the "Father of Secession" for his staunch and vocal anti-Union positions.

Rhett was doing local theater productions when she was spotted for a role in the 1939 classic "Gone With the Wind," a film based on Margaret Mitchell's Pulitzer Prize-winning novel.

She was cast as India Wilkes, sister of plantation owner Ashley Wilkes who was at odds with Scarlet O'Hara, played by Vivien Leigh.

While the runaway success and continued notoriety of "Gone With the Wind" made Rhett recognizable nationwide, she did not pursue the limelight. Instead of heading to Hollywood, Rhett went back to Charleston.

In the coastal South Carolina city, she developed a reputation as a talented artist, producing works seen in the state library and in many plantations in the area, as well as sketches of her fellow "Gone With the Wind" cast members, according to Borts.

Rhett never married and had a relatively quiet life, though she was involved in local arts programs.

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