Celebrity Deaths ›

Beverly Sills: More Than Just a Pretty Voice

Getty Images / Susan Wood

Beverly Sills: More Than Just a Pretty Voice

Operatic legend Beverly Sills was born 85 years ago today May 25, 1929, giving us all a chance to embarrass ourselves by singing "Happy Birthday" in honor of one of the most memorable voices of the 20th century. Born to Russian and Romanian immigrant parents in Brooklyn, N.Y., Sills devoted her life to opera. First as a performer and later as a director, she became its popular face, promoting opera and the fine arts to mainstream audiences. She brought opera to prime-time television through appearances on The Dick Cavett Show, The Mike Douglas Show, The Merv Griffin Show and The Tonight Show with Johnny Carson. Sills even filled in for Carson as host.

Here she is on The Ed Sullivan Show:

Sills' mainstream popularity was due in part to her willingness to spoof herself on programs like The Muppet Show and to make frequent appearances with comedian Carol Burnett.

The coloratura soprano recorded 18 full-length operas, was featured on the covers of Time and Newsweek, and appeared on many of the world's greatest opera stages. She received four Emmys for her weekly television program, Lifestyles With Beverly Sills. Her autobiography, Bubbles: A Self-Portrait, was a best-seller.

In 1978, Sills announced she would retire in 1980, ending a 40-year performing career and transitioning to a role behind the scenes. She worked as a co-director of the New York City Opera, helping to make the organization financially viable before moving on to serve as chairwoman of the Lincoln Center and then the Metropolitan Opera before retiring in 2005.

In 2007, Sills revealed she was fighting lung cancer. She died of the disease July 2 of that year at 78.

Written by Seth Joseph. Find him on Google+.