Phyllis Newman, the Tony Award-winning actor, lyricist, and women’s healthcare advocate who secured accessible healthcare for thousands, died September 15 at age 86. Her death was confirmed by her son, Adam, on social media.
A gifted comedian, Ms. Newman made her Broadway debut in the 1952 musical Wish You Were Here.
"It was born in me,” Newman told Playbill in 2012. "I had to perform. My parents told me that when I was three or four I would go out in the street and sing and bring people in to watch me in my apartment in Jersey City."
In 1956, she was cast as the standby for Judy Holliday in the hit musical comedy Bells Are Ringing, written by composer Jule Styne, and co-librettists Betty Comden and Adolph Green.
Ms. Newman and Green were wed in 1960.
She appeared on Broadway twice in 1959, albeit briefly, with roles in the short-lived musical First Impressions and later Marcel Ayme’s Moonbirds.
Ms. Newman won a Tony Award for her portrayal of Martha Vail in the 1961 musical Subways Are for Sleeping, beating out Barbra Streisand in the Best Featured Actress in a Musical category.
She appeared on television frequently during the 1960s and 1970s, as a celebrity guest star on What's My Line?, Match Game, and To Tell the Truth, and was often a guest of Johnny Carson’s on The Tonight Show. She played Renee Buchanan on the ABC daytime soap opera One Life to Live, and went on to appear in 100 Center Street, The Week That Was, The Man from U.N.C.L.E., and Murder, She Wrote.
Ms. Newman returned to Broadway on several occasions, replacing Barbara Harris in The Apple Tree in 1967, and joining Neil Simon’s The Prisoner of Second Avenue in 1971. That same year she starred as Claire DeLoone in a Broadway revival of On the Town. And in 1979, Ms. Newman came to Broadway in The Madwoman of Central Park West, a solo show co-written with and directed by Arthur Laurents.
In 1985, Ms. Newman joined a parade of Broadway stars for the New York Philharmonic's concert stagings of Follies, the landmark collaboration by Stephen Sondheim, Harold Prince, and William Goldman that had not been staged in New York since its closing performance in 1972. Her performance as Stella Deems (including the show-stopping “Who’s That Woman”) was filmed and broadcast by PBS Great Performances.
She was Tony nominated in 1987 for originating the role of Blanche in the Neil Simon comedy Broadway Bound.
Her diagnosis with breast cancer in 1983 led to the formation of The Phyllis Newman Women’s Health Initiative, which operates as part of the Actors Fund. Her dedicated work as an advocate for accessible healthcare, particularly for women and young children, was recognized by the American Theatre Wing in 2009, when she was named the first recipient of the Tony Awards' Isabelle Stevenson Award for her humanitarian and philanthropic work.
Her memoir, Just in Time – Notes from My Life, was published in 1988. Ms. Newman and Mr. Green were married until his death in 2002. They had two children together, journalist Adam Green, and songwriter Amanda Green, a two-time Tony Award nominee.