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Portia Nelson

Renaissance woman Portia Nelson, author, singer, composer and actress died of respiratory failure in her Manhattan home on March 6. She was 80.

The Utah native got her big break at age 22, when Walter Gross, head of CBS Records, heard her singing in a small Sherman Oaks night club. She debuted as a cabaret singer at Manhattan’s Blue Angel the following year.

She became known as one of the premiere cabaret singers in New York during the 1950s, often performing at Bon Soir, Reuben Bleu, and other cafe-society clubs nationwide. She released three solo albums during that decade, including “Let Me Love You.” She also appeared in the award-winning Broadway musical, “The Golden Apple.”

In 1965, Nelson made her bigscreen debut as Sister Berthe in “The Sound of Music.” Her acting career continued until the 1980s and included a long stint as the nanny Mrs. Gurney on “All My Children.”

In the early 1990s, Nelson penned “There’s a Hole in My Sidewalk,” which includes the poem “Autobiography in Five Short Chapters.” The book has been used by Alcoholics Anonymous and has gained wide popularity with recovering addicts and psychotherapists alike.

The crowning moment of her writing career came in 1993, when opera singer Marilyn Horne sang Nelson’s “Make a Rainbow” at Bill Clinton’s presidential inauguration.

She is survived by her brother and 12 nieces and nephews.

There will be a memorial service in her honor this spring.

In lieu of flowers, donations may be made to the Actors’ Fund of America in her name.

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