Another sad loss: Beverly Sills died last night at her home in her Manhattan of inoperable lung cancer. Here’s an excerpt from The New York Times obituary:

Ms. Sills was America’s idea of a prima donna. Her plain-spoken manner and telegenic vitality made her a genuine celebrity and an invaluable advocate for the fine arts. Her life embodied an archetypal American story of humble origins, years of struggle, family tragedy and artistic triumph.

During her day, American opera singers routinely went overseas for training and professional opportunities. But Ms. Sills was a product of her native country and did not even perform in Europe until she was 36. At a time when opera singers regularly appeared as guests on “The Tonight Show Starring Johnny Carson,” Ms. Sills was the only opera star who was invited to be guest host. She made frequent television appearances with Carol Burnett, Danny Kaye and even the Muppets.

Indeed, while she was still singing, and before her 10-year tenure as general director of the New York City Opera, Ms. Sills for nearly two years was host of her own weekly talk show on network television. After leaving her City Opera post, she continued an influential career as an arts administrator, becoming the chairwoman first of Lincoln Center and then of the Metropolitan Opera.

Her life, though, was far from easy, and the comprehensive obituary ends on a poignant note:

In a conversation with a Times reporter in 2005, reflecting on her challenging life and triumphant career, Ms. Sills said, “Man plans and God laughs.” She added: “I have often said I’ve never considered myself a happy woman. How could I, with all that’s happened to me. But I’m a cheerful woman. Work kept me going.”

For more information about her life, you may want to the visit the PBS Great Performances website for “Beverly Sills: Made in America,” which originally aired in 2006.

Update: The New York Times has opened up a comments section for readers to submit their reminiscences about Sills. Read more from Tim Page at the Washington Post. The Post also has a photo gallery of Sills.

Update II: Just heard Carol Burnett talking with NPR’s Robert Siegel on All Things Considered about her very un-diva like friend. Go listen (audio link is in left column).


Start the conversation

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.