Beverly Sills, the premier American opera diva born to first-generation Jewish Americans, has died. She died Monday at her Manhattan home of inoperable lung cancer. She was 78. Sills was born Belle Silverman in the Crown Heights area of Brooklyn. Her father, Morris, was an insurance broker from Romania, and her mother, Shirley, was born in Russia. Sills was pushed into show business at age 4, her mother believing her to be a “Jewish Shirley Temple,” according to The New York Times.In her career performing with the New York City Opera she won critical praise for her portrayal of Cleopatra in Handel’s “Giulio Cesare” and Lucia in Donizetti’s “Lucia di Lammermoor.” Sills retired from the stage at 50 and assumed the general director’s post of the City Opera. Burdened with a company $3 million in debt, Sills put her fund-raising skills to work, and by the time she stepped down in 1989 the opera had slashed ticket prices by 20 percent while achieving a $3 million surplus. Sills then brought her skills to the Lincoln Center of the Performing Arts, where in 1994 she was elected chairwoman of the board. In 2002 she became chairwoman of the Metropolitan Opera. Sills is survived by her two children and three stepchildren.
Beverly Sills dies at 78