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Tony Winner Barbara Cook Dead At 89

| by Lauren Briggs

Legendary Broadway actress and singer Barbara Cook has passed away at the age of 89.

Cook's publicist announced that she died of respiratory failure at her Manhattan home early in the morning of Aug. 8, reports NPR. Her friends and family were at her side.

The iconic stage performer is perhaps best known for her role as Marian, the librarian and love interest in "The Music Man," for which she won a Tony Award. She also starred in Leonard Bernstein’s "Candide" and "She Loves Me" as well as revivals of "Carousel," "The King and I,"  and "Show Boat," among others.

"I think it's absolutely, totally important for a person, first of all, to hopefully know who they are as a performer and to choose songs that illuminate that person; and then to be present -- to really, really be present," Cook said of the process of discovering her own style, according to NPR.

But Cook isn't only known for being a leading light on Broadway during the 1950s and '60s. Her openness later in life about her struggles with alcoholism, obesity and depression in the late '60s and early '70s resounded with many.

"I was not some lady drunk," she ruefully told The New York Times in 2005. "I was a real nonfunctioning alcoholic. Dishes, always in the sink. The kitchen a mess. The bathroom a mess. Everything a mess."

Cook turned her life around in 1977. She quit drinking, improved her health and lost some of the nearly 150 pounds she had gained.

"I decided that I had to try to be comfortable with my body as it was, because otherwise you just live in a closet, you don't go out," she said.

At around this time, Cook shifted her career and became a cabaret and concert singer, for which she received rave reviews for her honest interpretations of the music she performed. In her later years, she used a less technical approach, instead emphasizing timing and other stylistic aspects to highlight a new emotional focus, notes The Times.

"High voices really don't express much," New York Times critic Stephen Holden said of Cook's voice, which deepened with age, according to NPR. "They're just beautiful and phenomenal. And it's low voices that you can really get into the dark side of things, or whatever you want to call it. And she goes there and puts all of her life into what she sings."

Sources: NPR, ​The New York Times / Featured Image: Joella Marano/Flickr / Embedded Images: Beyond My Ken/Wikimedia Commonsdrestwn/Flickr

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