American coloratura soprano Beverly Sills passed away July 2 at her New York home at age 78. The cause was inoperable lung cancer.

Sills, who was a whirlwind force onstage and off, was a beloved figure to opera fans and a wider public throughout a remarkable career that included becoming a vocal legend, a dynamic and hugely influential arts administrator, a lively TV personality and a champion fund-raiser.

As a TV personality, Sills straddled the worlds of pop culture and the performing arts. She was equally at home guest-hosting "The Tonight Show" for Johnny Carson and performing with the Muppets as she was helming "PBS Live From Lincoln Center" broadcasts.

Nicknamed "Bubbles" from infancy, the singer-nee Belle Silverman, of Brooklyn-began her public career at age 4 as a child radio star. (Her parents gave her the stage name Beverly Sills by the time she was 7.)

After graduating from Manhattan's Professional Children's School at age 16, she began touring the United States with small opera companies before landing a spot at the New York City Opera (NYCO) in 1955, a place won only after failing seven auditions there.

The following year, Sills married newspaper journalist/editor Peter B. Greenough, scion of a wealthy family whose assets included Cleveland newspaper the Plain Dealer. She became stepmother to three children. Her own first child, Buffy (Meredith Holden Greenough) was born in 1959; a son, Bucky (Peter Bulkeley Greenough Jr.), was born in 1961.

When she was 2, Buffy was diagnosed as deaf. A mere six weeks later, Bucky was diagnosed as mentally retarded with other complications that, in retrospect, were recognized as autism. Sills shaped her schedule around her children's needs and later on became a fund-raiser for a variety of health-related charities including the March of Dimes.

After years of struggling to make a name for herself as a singer, Sills achieved superstar status as America's home-grown opera phenomenon only in her late 30s. That prominence began in a star turn at NYCO, when the company inaugurated its new home at Lincoln Center in 1966. She sang the role of Cleopatra in the Handel opera "Giulio Cesare," a role she had lobbied hard for.

She was later known for a wide variety of repertoire that included Donizetti's "Lucia di Lammermoor," Massenet's "Manon" and Douglas Moore's contemporary opera "The Ballad of Baby Doe," performing with rich vocal skills and acting agility and believability to match.

Sills conquered Europe in a "La Scala" performance in 1969, at age 40. She made her debut across the Lincoln Center plaza at the Metropolitan Opera only in 1975. After starting to experience some vocal trouble in the late '70s, Sills announced she would retire from the stage in 1980.

However, that exit marked only the beginning of another major chapter in Sills' career. In 1979, she became general director of the then-troubled NYCO for a 10-year term, sculpting the struggling company into a home for young American singers that explored little-known reaches of the operatic repertoire.
She then became a fund-raiser and spokeswoman for the overall Lincoln Center organization. In 1994, she became chairwoman of the Lincoln Center board. Six months later, however, she became chairwoman of the Metropolitan Opera.

Sills' husband died last year. She is survived by her children and stepchildren.