Barbara Cook, Broadway and Cabaret Star, Dies at 89

Cook is best known for her roles in “Candide,” “The Music Man” and “She Loves Me”

Barbara Cook
Getty Images

Barbara Cook, a Broadway star and a beloved cabaret and concert performer, has died. She was 89.

A spokesperson for Cook told TheWrap that the actress died Tuesday morning of respiratory failure at her home in Manhattan, surrounded by family and friends.

On Broadway, Cook is best known for her roles in Leonard Bernstein’s “Candide” (1956), as librarian Marian in “The Music Man” (1957), for which she also won a Tony, and as Amalia Balash in “She Loves Me” (1963).

Cook was born in Atlanta to Charles Bunyan and Nell Cook. After she graduated high school in 1945, Cook worked as a typist for three years. During a visit to New York, she decided to stay and find work as an actress. Appearance in clubs and resorts led her to her Broadway debut in “Flahooley” in 1951. She soon landed the lead role in “Oklahoma!” and went on a national tour with the production. Her first musical success was a yearlong Broadway run in “Plain and Fancy” in 1955.

When Cook’s ingenue days were over, she reinvigorated her career in clubs and concert halls. For more than 30 years, she worked with Wally Harper, who helped her shape her material, choose her songs and set up the framework for her shows. Her first concert album, “Barbara Cook at Carnegie Hall” (1975) became a classic.

In 2016, Cook published a memoir titled “Then & Now” in which she described hitting rock bottom as an alcoholic: “I was so broke that I was stealing food from the supermarket by slipping sandwich meat in my coat pocket.” According to the Associated Press, she gave up drinking in the 1970s.

Cook’s other Broadway musicals included “The Gay Life” (1961), “Something More!” (1964) and “The Grass Harp” (1971), based on the Truman Capote novel. She also appeared in several plays on Broadway, including “Any Wednesday” in 1965, Jules Feiffer’s “Little Murders” (1967) and Maxim Gorky’s “Enemies” with the Repertory Theatre of Lincoln Center in 1972.

In 2011, she received a Kennedy Center Honor. Cook is survived by her son, Adam LeGrant.