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Barbara Cook, The Music Man's Original Marian, Has Died

The Tony winner was celebrated for her golden-throated soprano.

Barbara Cook has died at the age of 89.
(© David Gordon)

Barbara Cook, the golden-voiced Broadway veteran who originated the role of Marian in The Music Man, has died. She was 89.

Born October 25, 1927, in Atlanta to traveling hat salesman Charles Bunyan and Southern Bell operator Nell (Hartwell) Cook, she lived alone with her mother after her parents divorced and her only sister died of whooping cough. After graduating from high school, she spent three years working as a typist before moving to New York in 1948. Her first real gig was an engagement at the Blue Angel club in 1950. Soon after, she landed the role of Sandy in the 1951 Broadway musical Flahooley. She played Ado Annie in the 1951 City Center revival of Rodgers and Hammerstein's Oklahoma! and went on tour with the show in 1952.

That same year, Cook's successful television career began. She appeared on the serial Armstrong Circle Theatre and the 1954 soap opera Golden Windows. She played Jane Piper in a television version of Victor Herbert's Babes in Toyland in 1954, returning to City Center that year to play Carrie Pipperidge in Carousel. She won a Theater World Award in 1955 for her performance as Hilda Miller in Plain and Fancy, and she was subsequently cast as Cunegonde in Leonard Bernstein's Candide. Her famous aria from that show, "Glitter and Be Gay," became one of her signature numbers.

Following Candide, Cook established herself with and won a 1957 Tony for her performance as Marian the Librarian in Meredith Willson's The Music Man. She also originated the role of Amalia Balash in Joe Masteroff, Jerry Bock, and Sheldon Harnick's 1963 musical She Loves Me. Of her passing, Harnick said, "Ater my glorious experience with Barbara Cook in She Loves Me, we became lifelong friends. Barbara was a superb singer, a fine actress and, as a person, the soul of candor. I'll miss her in all three capacities."

Her many other stage performances in the 1960s included Anna in The King and I and Magnolia in Show Boat at City Center. She played Molly Brown and Fanny Brice in national tours of The Unsinkable Molly Brown and Funny Girl, respectively. Her last role in a Broadway book musical came in 1971, when she starred as Dolly Talbo in The Grass Harp.

Cook struggled with depression, alcoholism, and obesity in the 1970s, though during this time she met her longtime accompanist, Wally Harper. Their collaboration lasted until his death in 2004 and turned Cook into a cabaret star. She would bring numerous solo concerts to Broadway for extended stays, including Barbara Cook's Broadway! and Mostly Sondheim. Her relationship with Stephen Sondheim's music continued when she appeared in the 2010 revue Sondheim on Sondheim.

A 2011 Kennedy Center honoree, Cook is survived by her son, Adam LeGrant, from her 13-year marriage to acting teacher David LeGrant.

Robert Preston and Barbara Cook in the original 1957 Broadway production of The Music Man.