Tony-winning deaf actress Phyllis Frelich, who originated the lead role in Children of a Lesser God on Broadway, died Thursday of progressive supranuclear palsy (PSP). She was 70. Frelich’s husband Robert Steinberg told the AP of her passing. The two were married for 46 years, during which time their relationship inspired Mark Medoff to write Children of a Lesser God at New Mexico State University. When the play moved to Los Angeles and then Broadway Frelich played the lead role of Sarah Norman in the story of the relationship between a deaf woman and a hearing speech pathologist and won a Tony for the role in 1980. Marlee Matlin played the Sarah role in the 1986 film adaptation, for which she won the Oscar. Frelich, originally from Devils Lake, North Dakota, came from a family of deaf parents and siblings and began acting while studying at Gallaudet College. She met Steinberg in the National Theatre of the Deaf where he worked as a scene and lighting designer for playwright Medoff. Frelich also starred in Medoff’s In The Hands Of Its Enemy opposite Richard Dreyfuss and Jeffrey Tambor and was nominated for an Emmy for the 1985 TV movie Love Is Never Silent. She played Sister Sarah on soap opera Santa Barbara and had guest roles on CSI, ER, Gimme a Break, Diagnosis Murder, and more. “You paved so many roads for us, Phyllis. A leading light of our community has been lost, and we mourn deeply. Our thoughts are with her family,” wrote L.A.’s Deaf West Theater upon her passing.
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