May Angels Sing Thee to Thy Rest

Beverly Sills passed away yesterday from inoperable lung cancer. Like another we lost this year, she had never smoked.

Beverly Sills introduced me to opera – I met her on The Muppet Show and Carol Burnett. She made it sound so effortless and fun. So, unlike the jaded music majors that populate my house, I love opera simply for the music and the story and the emotion.

Beyond the music world, Sills gained fans worldwide with a style that matched her childhood nickname, Bubbles. The relaxed, red-haired diva 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 one-liners thrown in.

Long after the public stopped hearing her sing in 1980, Sills’ rich, infectious laughter filled the nation’s living rooms as she hosted live TV broadcasts, conducting backstage interviews for the Metropolitan Opera’s high-definition movie theater performances as recently as last season.

She joins her beloved Peter, who preceded her to his reward last year. He suffered from Alzheimer’s.

Described by former Mayor Ed Koch as “an empire unto herself,” Sills sat on several corporate boards, including those of Macy’s and American Express.

Sills raised money not only for 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, Meredith, has MS and was born deaf.

At a 2005 Manhattan benefit for the National Multiple Sclerosis Society, Sills told an audience that included her daughter: “One of the things that separates the two-legged creatures from the four-legged ones is compassion.”

Added the host for that evening, Barbara Walters: “She can go from doing a duet with Placido Domingo to doing a duet with a Muppet.”

Sills’ nurturing extended to her autistic son and to her husband, Peter Greenough, a former journalist who lived with her at their home as his Alzheimer’s disease progressed. He died last year.

For most of her life, she had balanced the challenges of her private life with the joy of singing, stepping onstage and transforming herself into characters that made her forget her troubles.

Delightful. Serious. Silly. Sillier. Gracious.

Goodnight, Sweet Princess.

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1 Comment

  1. September 6, 2007 at 7:12 pm

    [...] complete with hanky, it is still a sad day for the music world He goes to join another great; only recently departed but already missed. For me, music is many things, but more often than not, it is a source of [...]


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