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Barbara Cook, Broadway legend, cabaret artist, dies at 89

Barbara Cook is shown in a scene from

Barbara Cook is shown in a scene from "The Gay Life" at the Shubert Theater in New York in 1962. Credit: AP

Barbara Cook, whose shimmering soprano made her one of Broadway’s leading ingenues and later a major cabaret and concert interpreter of popular American song, has died. She was 89.

Cook died early Tuesday of respiratory failure at her home in Manhattan, surrounded by family and friends, according to publicist Amanda Kaus. Her last meal was vanilla ice cream, a nod to one of her most famous roles in “She Loves Me.”

Throughout her nearly six decades on stage, Cook’s voice remained remarkably supple, gaining in emotional honesty and expanding on its natural ability to go straight to the heart.

On social media, powerhouse singers paid their respects, including Tony Award winner Ben Platt from “Dear Evan Hansen,” who wrote: “Thank you Barbara Cook for the beautiful songs, the indelible characters, and the masterful storytelling. Heaven must sound glorious today.”

Born in Atlanta in 1927, Cook never had a vocal coach yet had an effortless skill of creating beauty by just opening her mouth. “I don’t remember when I didn’t sing. I just always sang,” she said in 2011. “I think I breathed and I sang.”

Cook made her Broadway debut in “Flahooley” (1951), a short-lived musical fantasy about a mass-produced laughing doll, and then played Ado Annie in a City Center revival of “Oklahoma!” and on tour in 1953. She followed that by portraying Carrie Pipperidge in a 1954 revival of “Carousel.” It led to Cook’s first original musical success, a yearlong Broadway run in “Plain and Fancy” (1955) as an innocent, unworldly Amish girl.

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The following year, she starred in “Candide,” which ran only 73 performances, and then had her biggest Broadway hit, Meredith Willson’s “The Music Man,” which opened in December 1957 and ran for more than 1,300 performances. Cook won a Tony Award for her portrayal of Marian, the prim librarian who falls for con man Harold Hill (Robert Preston).

Cook scored a personal triumph in “She Loves Me,” a Jerry Bock-Sheldon Harnick-Joe Masteroff musical based on the film “The Shop Around the Corner.” In the show, Cook sang a number extolling a gift of “Vanilla Ice Cream,” which became her signature number in her cabaret shows.

In the late 1960s, Cook battled alcoholism and weight gain. In her 2016 memoir “Then & Now,” Cook describes hitting rock bottom as a drunk: “I was so broke that I was stealing food from the supermarket by slipping sandwich meat in my coat pocket.”

But she gave up drinking in the 1970s and reinvented herself as a solo artist, working in small New York clubs and finally Carnegie Hall. Her first concert album, “Barbara Cook at Carnegie Hall” (1975), became a classic.

Cook wed acting teacher David LeGrant in 1952, but they were divorced in 1965. She is survived by a son, Adam LeGrant.

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