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
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
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
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