Beverly Sills Index Page

Obituaries & Tributes Articles - Beverly Sills

Entertainment Tonight , July 11, 2007 by Joal Ryan

t's not every prima donna who can bring opera to the people. Much less the Muppets. Beverly Sills, the singer who did both during a storied career that spanned the swing and disco eras, died Monday night in her New York City home. She was 78.

Last week, it was announced that Sills was "gravely ill" with lung cancer.

Arts aficionados will remember Sills for her soprano, her studio recordings and her long association with the New York City Opera as performer, general director and board member.

"She was much more than a consummate artist, more than a gifted leader, more than a loyal friend to us; she was an inspiration, a force of nature," the opera's Website said Tuesday.

Those who know don't know Die Fledermaus from Mickey Mouse may remember Sills as a television staple of the 1970s—a red-haired doppelganger for the mother on Family who dueted with the Muppets (on The Muppet Show), traded runs and punchlines with Carol Burnett (in the Emmy-nominated 1976 special Sills and Burnett at the Met), and sat down for friendly chats with the likes of Merv (as in Griffin), Mike (as in Douglas) and Dinah (as in Shore).

No, Sills never sailed away on The Love Boat, or vacationed on Fantasy Island, but perhaps that's because she was too busy guest hosting the Johnny Carson-era Tonight Show.

Sills had the mantle pieces to go along with her pop-culture status, including an Emmy (for the 1975 special Profile in Music: Beverly Sills Festival), and a Grammy (for the 1975 album, Music of Victor Herbert). In 1985, she was celebrated at the Kennedy Center Honors alongside Bob Hope and others.

Born Belle Silverman in the opera hub of Brooklyn, New York, on May 25, 1929, the subsequently redubbed Beverly Sills was a child radio performer who made her opera debut in 1947. It would take nearly 10 years before Sills made the leap to New York, and the New York City Opera.

A year after her New York debut, in 1956, Sills married newspaper scion Peter Greenough. Together, the couple parented Greenough's three children from his previous marriage, and their own two children, one of whom was deaf, the other of whom was autistic.

"I had extreme highs and extreme lows in my life," Sills told Great Performances Online. "You have no choice but to go on. What's the alternative? So many people in my family depended on my good cheer. I always said I'm not a happy woman, but a cheerful woman."

Greenough died last year at age 89.

Sills retired from the stage in 1980, but remained an ambassador for her art. She also remained a familiar face, hosting episodes of PBS' Live from Lincoln Center. (She served as chairwoman of Lincoln Center from 1994-2002.)

"I don't believe in staying too long at the fair," Sills told PBS' Charlie Rose in 2002. "I think people
should be saying it's too soon, rather than when is that woman ever going to leave