Phyllis Newman, a Tony Award-winning Broadway veteran and show-business personality who eventually turned her attention to fight for women’s health, died Sept. 15 in Manhattan. She was 86.

The cause was complications from a lung disorder, said her son, Adam Green.

After a decade in small parts on screen and stage, Ms. Newman had a career breakthrough with “Subways Are for Sleeping” (1961), in which she appeared in a bath towel and for which she won the Tony for best featured actress in a musical. (The lyrics were co-written by her husband, Adolph Green.)

She won the coveted prize over such formidable competitors as Barbara Harris and Barbra Streisand, seeming to blare her arrival as the next big musical theater star. Yet for decades, amid stellar reviews, she mostly was hired as a replacement for bigger names in Broadway shows.

Meanwhile, she became a stalwart of TV game and talk shows, which led to her appearances on “The Tonight Show” as a performer and a guest host. She said her gift for gab — as a “a chatterer and a laugher,” as she was once characterized — ricocheted against her and stereotyped her.

“I know everybody in the world and they never hire me for anything,” she once told an interviewer. Of her TV work, she added, “It keeps you in front of the public, but that’s the only way they knew me.”

She also said she put her career second to raising her two children with Green. “It just seemed inevitable that I would do that,” she told the New York Post. “Adolph was always working and someone had to take care of the kids. I’m not bitter about it at all. I don’t regret it for one minute.”

Notable deaths in 2019: Elijah Cummings, Cokie Roberts, Toni Morrison and others we have lost this year


She earned a second Tony nomination, for best featured actress in a play, as Aunt Blanche in the Neil Simon play “Broadway Bound” (1986). She soon began a brief role in the ABC soap opera “One Life to Live.”

“I was supposed to do just five episodes of ‘One Life to Live,’ ” she told the Associated Press. “I played Renee Devine, an ex-
madame from Las Vegas who dressed to kill. The character just took off.”

Ms. Newman was born in Jersey City on March 19, 1933. Her parents, Jewish emigrants from Eastern Europe, worked on the Atlantic City boardwalk. Her mother, Rachel, took the name “Marvelle, the Fortune Teller,” and her father, Sigmund, analyzed handwriting under the moniker “Gabel the Graphologist.”

As a child, Ms. Newman also showed a talent for performance. As “Baby Phyllis,” she began impersonating stars of the day such as the flamboyant Brazilian singer Carmen Miranda.

She made her Broadway debut in “Wish You Were Here” (1952), a musical set in a summer camp. Her other Broadway credits included a 1971 revival of the musical “On the Town.” Working with playwright Arthur Laurents, she created a short-lived one-woman show, “The Madwoman of Central Park West” (1979). She also made dozens of TV and films appearances.

In the 1990s, she focused on fundraising and founded the Phyllis Newman Women’s Health Initiative of the Actor’s Fund. Her work earned her the 2009 Isabelle Stevenson Award from the Tony Awards. She also hosted the annual benefit Breathless on Broadway to raise money for research to combat the lung disease pulmonary hypertension.

She started writing her autobiography, “Just in Time: Notes From My Life” (1988), after being diagnosed with breast cancer. “I started writing it because I didn’t want to talk about it. Not that it was a secret. After I had 50 pages down, Simon & Schuster bought it,” she said at the time.

Green, whom she married in 1960, died in 2002. In addition to her son, survivors include her daughter, Amanda Green.