Phyllis Frelich, the deaf actress who won the best actress Tony Award in 1980 for her performance in the best play winner Children of a Lesser God, has died. She was 70.
Frelich's death was reported April 10 by the Deaf West Theatre group in North Hollywood.
"You paved so many roads for us, Phyllis," it said on its Facebook page. "A leading light of our community has been lost, and we mourn deeply."
No other details of her death were immediately available.
Marlee Matlin was the recipient of the best actress Oscar for playing Sarah Norman, the role that Frelich originated, in the 1986 Paramount Pictures film version. Matlin said on Twitter that she was "devastated … [Frelich] was a TRUE talent. RIP"
In the original Broadway play, a speech therapist (John Rubinstein) who works at a school for the deaf falls in love with a maid/student at the school, played by Frelich. It was written by Mark Medoff and first performed in a workshop production at New Mexico State University, with Frelich and her husband, Robert Steinberg, starring. He survives her.
Frelich, born to deaf parents and the oldest of nine deaf children in her family, earned an Emmy nomination for her supporting role in the 1985 Hallmark Hall of Fame miniseries Love Is Never Silent and had a regular role as a deaf nun on the NBC soap opera Santa Barbara.
She also appeared on such TV series as Barney Miller, Gimme a Break!, Spenser: For Hire, Hunter, L.A. Law, Pacific Blue, ER, Diagnosis Murder and, most recently, in a 2011 episode of CSI: Crime Scene Investigation as the mother of Gil Grissom (William Petersen).
A native of Devils Lake, N.D., Frelich attended the North Dakota School for the Deaf and then Gallaudet University in Washington.
She performed the American Sign Language interpretation of Jewel's rendition of the national anthem at the Super Bowl in 1998.