Beverly Sills dies of cancer at 78

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NEW YORK -- 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 Monday of cancer, her manager said. She was 78.

It had been revealed just last month that Sills was gravely ill with inoperable lung cancer. She died about 9 p.m. Monday, said her manager, Edgar Vincent.

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 funny 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. As recently as last season, she conducted backstage interviews for the Metropolitan Opera's high-definition movie theater performances.

Sills first gained fame with a high-octane career that helped put Americans on the international map of opera stars.

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 Bizet's "Carmen." Sills 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" and Handel's "Giulio Cesare," and the roles of three Tudor queens in works by Gaetano Donizetti.

Her 1958 appearances as Baby Doe would become among her best known, in a tale of a silver-mine millionaire who leaves his wife for Baby Doe and eventually dies penniless.

"I loved the role," Sills wrote in her 1976 autobiography. "I read everything that had ever been written about her. ... I absorbed her so completely in those five weeks of studying the opera that I knew her inside and out. I was Baby Doe."
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