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Tony Winner and Women's Health Activist Phyllis Newman Dies at 86

Newman won a Tony for the musical Subways Are for Sleeping.

Phyllis Newman has died at the age of 86.
(© Tristan Fuge)

Phyllis Newman, the Tony-winning actor and longtime advocate for women's health, has died at the age of 86.

Born in Jersey City, New Jersey, Newman made her Broadway debut in 1952 with Wish You Were Here. She was a stand-by for the leading role in the original 1956 production of Bells Are Ringing, which featured a score by Jule Styne and a book and lyrics by Betty Comden and Adolph Green. She married Green in 1960.

In 1962, Newman would earn a Tony, famously beating Barbra Streisand in the Best Featured Actress in a Musical category, for her work in Styne, Comden, and Green's musical Subways Are for Sleeping. Newman went on to appear on Broadway in The Apple Tree; the 1971 revival of On the Town; her own musical, The Madwoman of Central Park West; and Neil Simon's Broadway Bound, which earned her an additional Tony nomination in 1987.

In the 1960s and 1970s, Newman became a television game show celebrity, appearing frequently on shows like What's My Line? and To Tell the Truth. She originated the role of Renée Buchanan on One Life to Live and Elaine on Thirtysomething, among many other screen appearances.

Newman's 1983 diagnosis of breast cancer led to the creation of the Phyllis Newman's Women's Health Initiative, which advocates for accessible healthcare for women and children. The organization currently operates as a wing of the Actors Fund and provides support for women with life-changing illnesses through counseling, educational seminars, short-term financial assistance, and general help to get medical care whether they're insured or not. Newman's advocacy work led to her being named the first recipient of the Tony Awards's Isabelle Stevenson Award in 2009.

Newman and Green were married until his death, at 87, in 2002. Her survivors include their children, Tony-nominated songwriter Amanda Green and Vogue columnist Adam Green.

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