Leigh "died peacefully in her home on Sunday afternoon" in Beverly Hills with her husband, Robert Brandt, and her actress daughters, Jamie Lee Curtis (news) and Kelly Curtis, at her side, the spokeswoman said. Leigh had been battling vasculitis -- an inflammation of the blood vessels.
Leigh's film career started in 1947 after actress Norma Shearer discovered her photograph on a hotel reception desk and recommended her for an MGM studio contract.
She appeared opposite such stars as Gary Cooper, Errol Flynn (news), Frank Sinatra
, Charlton Heston (news), James Stewart and ex-husband Tony Curtis (news) in dozens of movies including "The Manchurian Candidate" in 1962 and Orson Welles's "Touch of Evil" in 1958.
But lasting fame came not from the love interest or damsel in distress roles that the blond actress specialized in more than 50 movies but from a film in which she played a thief on the run.
The camera only cares about Leigh for the first 45 minutes of Alfred Hitchcock's 1960 film "Psycho" as she plays Marion Crane, an embezzler who stops for the night at the Bates Motel. She is slashed to death in a shower by a man dressed up as his mother -- Anthony Perkins playing motel keeper Norman Bates.
Leigh spent a week filming the shower scene, a montage of 70 different angles lasting 45 seconds. According to Hitchcock in an interview with director Peter Bogdanvich, "All you see of Janet Leigh is her hands, her shoulders and head. The rest is a model."
Hitchcock boasted, "the knife never touches the body on screen, We give the impression that it does but it actually doesn't. Also there is no part of the woman's body shown that might be considered taboo. The illusion of nudity is achieved through montage as well."
From the second the shower curtain is ripped back, through the shots of knife and flesh, to the blood swirling down the drain, the scene has affected viewers like few others in movie history. It was voted the most famous movie death scene by readers of the British magazine Total Films, outranking such cinematic tragedies as the death of Bambi's mother and King Kong's fall from the Empire State Building.
Leigh was nominated for a best supporting actress Oscar for the role and for years said it was impossible for her to take a shower without fear. "I do not take showers. As a result of seeing it edited ... it left such an indelible impression on my mind that I cannot take a shower. And that is the truth," she told reporters four years ago when she opened the Bates motel at the Universal Studios theme park.
Total Film's editor, Simon Crook, told the BBC it was "the sheer violence of the edit rather than any explicit gore" that made the shower scene so distressing.
Born Jeanette Helen Morrison, Leigh was the only child of a couple that crossed the country working at different jobs. She described her childhood as lonely and eloped for the first of four marriages at age 14.
After Leigh signed an MGM contract she played in "The Romance of Rosy Ridge" (1947), "Little Women" (1949), "Angels in the Outfield" (1951), "Scaramouche" (1952) and "Houdini" (1953), which also starred her third husband Tony Curtis.
In 1962, she married businessman Robert Brandt.