- The Washington Times - Tuesday, July 3, 2007

NEW YORK (AP) — Beverly Sills, the Brooklyn-born opera diva who was a global icon of can-do American culture with her dazzling voice, bubbly personality and management moxie in the arts world, died yesterday of cancer, her manager said. She was 78.

It had been revealed just last month that Miss Sills was gravely ill with inoperable lung cancer. Miss Sills, who never smoked, died at about 9 p.m. yesterday at her Manhattan home with her family and doctor at her side, said her manager, Edgar Vincent.

Beyond the music world, Miss Sills gained fans worldwide with a style that matched her childhood nickname, Bubbles. The relaxed, red-haired singer appeared frequently on “The Tonight Show,” “The Muppet Show” and in televised performances with her friend Carol Burnett.

Together, they did a show from the stage of the Metropolitan Opera called “Sills and Burnett at the Met,” singing rip-roaring duets with funny one-liners thrown in.

A coloratura soprano, Miss Sills was for years the prima donna of the New York City Opera, achieving stardom with critically acclaimed performances in Giuseppe Verdi’s “La Traviata” and Gaetano Donizetti’s “Lucia di Lammermoor,” among dozens of other roles.

Abroad, she sang at such famed opera houses as La Scala and Teatro San Carlo in Italy, London’s Royal Opera at Covent Garden and the Berlin Opera.

Born Belle Miriam Silverman in Brooklyn, she quickly became Bubbles, an endearment coined by the doctor who delivered her, noting that she was born blowing a bubble of spit from her little mouth.

Fast-forward to 1947, when the same mouth produced vocal glory for her operatic stage debut in Philadelphia in a bit role in Georges Bizet’s “Carmen.” Miss Sills became a star with the New York City Opera, where she first performed in 1955 in Johann Strauss Jr.’s “Die Fledermaus.”

Miss Sills‘ face once graced the covers of Time and Newsweek magazines as an American who had conquered the classical music world, even abroad — at the time a rarity. But as a child star, she was not above singing radio commercials with lyrics such as: “Rinso White, Rinso Bright, happy little washday song.” Journalist Barbara Walters said Miss Sills “can go from doing a duet with Placido Domingo to doing a duet with a Muppet.”

She retired from the stage in 1980 at age 51 after a three-decade singing career and began a new life as an executive and leader of New York’s performing arts community. First, she became general director of the New York City Opera. In 1994, she became chairwoman of the Lincoln Center for the Performing Arts. She was the first woman and first former artist in that position.

Miss Sills was a master fundraiser, tapping her vast network of friends and colleagues for money that bolstered not only Lincoln Center but also non-artistic causes, such as the Sloan-Kettering Cancer Center and the March of Dimes, a job she called “one of the most rewarding in my life.”

She also lent her name and voice to the Multiple Sclerosis Society; her daughter, Muffy, has MS and was born deaf. Her compassion extended to her autistic son and husband Peter Greenough, who lived with her at their home as his Alzheimer’s disease progressed. In addition to Mr. Greenough’s three children from a previous marriage, the couple had two children of their own, Peter Jr., known as “Bucky,” and Meredith, known as “Muffy.”