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Marni Nixon, Famous Playback Singer For Movie Musical Actresses, Dies at 86

Nixon was the voice of Audrey Hepburn, Natalie Wood, and Deborah Kerr and many more during her illustrious career.

Marni Nixon

“Marni Nixon”

Sara Krulwich/The New York Times

Marni Nixon, American soprano and playback singer for actresses in movie musicals, has died at the age of 86 of breast cancer. She is survived by two daughters from her first marriage, three sisters, six grandchildren, and three great-grandchildren.

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Throughout the 1950s and ’60s, Nixon was the singing voice for stars in a variety of acclaimed Hollywood films. She dubbed Deborah Kerr in “The King and I,” Natalie Wood in “West Side Story,” and Audrey Hepburn in “My Fair Lady.” She also sang for Jeanne Crain in “Cheaper by the Dozen,” Janet Leigh in “Pepe,” and Ida Lupino in “Jennifer.” Her performances were frequently uncredited, but she was considered by the press to be “the ghostess with the mostest.” Though Nixon had to sign contracts that stipulated she wouldn’t reveal her part in the dubbing, she became a cult figure as generations have become accustomed to hearing her voice on many famous soundtracks.

Nixon was also an accomplished and acclaimed concert singer. She appeared as a soloist with the New York Philharmonic, and a recitalist at Carnegie, Alice Tully and Town Halls in New York. Her concerts and many recordings of Schoenberg, Stravinsky, Gershwin, and many more drew wide critical praise.

Though she occasionally took center stage, such as when she played Eliza Doolittle in a 1964 revival of “My Fair Lady,” her “ghost” work has cemented her Hollywood legacy. She paid tribute to it in her one-woman show, “Marni Nixon: The Voice of Hollywood,” and in her memoir, “I Could Have Sung All Night,” published in 2006.

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