everly Sills, the opera diva who won over fans
worldwide with her sparkling voice and charming personality and later
became a powerhouse in the New York arts world, is gravely ill with
Sills, 78, was chairwoman of the Metropolitan Opera until she resigned
two years ago, citing health and family reasons. She remains the Met's
The Met would neither confirm nor deny news of her illness, but people
close to the situation said Sills was at a Manhattan hospital, with her
daughter at her side.
In an e-mail this week to members of its board, the Met said Sills was
''gravely ill.'' One person said she was suffering from lung cancer. The
people spoke on condition of anonymity because they were not
authorized to announce news of her health.
Sills, a nonsmoker, underwent successful cancer surgery in 1974. The
coloratura soprano retired from the stage in 1980 at 51.
Born Belle Miriam Silverman in
Brooklyn, the coloratura soprano
made her opera debut in 1947 in
Philadelphia in a bit role in
Bizet's "Carmen." She became a
star with the New York City
Opera, where she first performed
in 1955 in Johann Strauss Jr.'s "Die Fledermaus." She was
acclaimed for performances in
such operas as Douglas Moore's "The Ballad of Baby Doe," Massenet's "Manon," Handel's "Giulio Cesare" and the roles of
three Tudor queens in works by
She didn't appear at the Met
until 1975, shortly before her
retirement from singing -- which made it surprising when the Met
asked her to sit on its board in
Beyond the music world, Sills gained fans worldwide with a personality
that matched her childhood nickname -- Bubbles. The relaxed,
red-haired diva appeared frequently on ''The Tonight Show,'' ''The
Muppet Show'' and singing with her friend Carol Burnett.
As recently as last season,
Sills hosted some of the Met's new high-definition theater broadcasts.
Sills retired from the stage in 1980 at 51 and began a career leading
New York's performing arts community as general director of City
Opera. She became chairwoman of Lincoln Center for the
Performing Arts in 1994.