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Soprano Beverly Sills dies at age 78

Tuesday, July 3, 2007

Soprano Beverly Sills, who brought opera to United States popular culture through frequent television appearances, died last night at her home in New York. She was 78.

Born Belle Miriam Silverman on May 25, 1929 in Brooklyn, she was nicknamed "Bubbles", and started singing at age three, winning talent contests and singing on the radio.

She made her professional stage debut in 1945, with a touring Gilbert and Sullivan show, and in 1947, started singing opera as Frasquite in Carmen with the Philadelphia City Opera. She sang with the San Francisco Opera and the New York City Opera.

She married in 1956 to journalist and Cleveland Plain Dealer publishing heir Peter Greenough, and had two children with him. One was deaf and the other mentally retarded, so Sills curtailed her performances to care for them.

She returned to opera in 1962, with the Opera Company of Boston, and then reached her peak singing years in the mid- and late-1960s, singing with the New York City Opera.

She made her debut with the Metropolitan Opera in April 1975, receiving an 18-minute ovation for her performance in The Siege of Corinth.

At the height of her popularity in the 1970s, she was a regular guest on television variety shows with Danny Kaye, Carol Burnett and The Muppet Show. She was even a guest host on Johnny Carson's The Tonight Show. For two years, she had her own weekly talk show. Sills graced magazine covers, such as Time and Newsweek, as an example of an American who conquered the European-dominated world of classical music.

After retiring from performing in 1980, Sills became the general manager of the New York City Opera. She became the chairman of Lincoln Center for the Performing Arts in 1994, and 2002 was appointed head of the Metropolitan Opera.

Sills had surgery for cancer in 1974, but it had been revealed last month that she was ill with an aggressive form of lung cancer, though she never smoked. She died about 9 p.m. ET yesterday at her home in Manhattan with her family and doctor at her side.

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