Phyllis Frelich

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Phyllis Frelich
Born Phyllis Annetta Frelich
(1944-02-29)February 29, 1944
Devils Lake, North Dakota, U.S.
Died April 10, 2014(2014-04-10) (aged 70)
Temple City, California, U.S.
Occupation Actress
Years active 1970–2011

Phyllis Annetta Frelich (February 29, 1944 – April 10, 2014) was an American actress.

Early life[edit]

Frelich was born in Devils Lake, North Dakota, to deaf parents Esther (née Dockter) and Phillip Frelich,[1] and was the eldest of nine siblings (all deaf). She attended North Dakota School for the Deaf, graduating in 1962, and then went on to study at Gallaudet College (now known as Gallaudet University), a school for the deaf and hard-of-hearing.


Frelich attended the North Dakota School for the Deaf and Gallaudet College. At the latter she completed a degree in library science, but also participated in theater. It was at Gallaudet that she was seen performing by David Hays, one of the founders of the National Theater of the Deaf, who asked her to join the theater company.[2]

Frelich originated the leading female role in the Broadway production of Children of a Lesser God, written by Mark Medoff. Children won the Tony for Best Play; Frelich won the 1980 Best Actress Tony Award and her co-star, John Rubinstein, won Best Actor Tony Award.[2] Marlee Matlin played Frelich's role in the film version, for which she won the Academy Award for Best Actress. Frelich later starred in other plays written by Medoff, including The Hands of Its Enemy and Prymate.[2] She was nominated for an Emmy Award for her performance in the 1985 television movie Love Is Never Silent. On the original air date of February 9, 1985, she appeared as a guest on Gimme A Break! - "The Earthquake" - Season 4, Episode 19. Frelich appeared in the recurring role of Sister Sarah on Santa Barbara.[3] Her last acting role was in an episode of CSI: Crime Scene Investigation in 2011.[2]

Personal life[edit]

Frelich was married to Robert Steinberg for many years, and they had two children (both of whom can hear and are fluent in American Sign Language). She performed the ASL interpretation of Jewel's rendition of the national anthem at Super Bowl XXXII.[citation needed]


Frelich died on April 10, 2014 at her home in Temple City, California at the age of 70 on April 2014 from progressive supranuclear palsy, a rare degenerative neurological disease for which there are no treatments.[4]

News of her death broke on the Deaf West Theater Facebook page. The post honored Frelich for "paving so many roads for [the Deaf Community]. A leading light of our community has been lost, and we mourn deeply. Our thoughts are with her family."


Year Film/TV Show
1981 Barney Miller: Stormy Weather
1983 More Than Friends
1985 Gimme a Break!
1985 Love is Never Silent
1988 Santa Barbara
1989 Bridge to Silence
1991 Hunter: Cries of Silence
1997 Santa Fe
1998 ER: Stuck on You
1999 ER: Nobody Doesn't Like Amanda Lee
2002 Children on Their Birthdays
2008 Sweet Nothing in My Ear
2011 CSI: Crime Scene Investigation: The Two Mrs. Grissoms


  1. ^ Obituary,; accessed April 21, 2014.
  2. ^ a b c d Weber, Bruce (April 15, 2014). "Phyllis Frelich, Deaf Activist and Actress, Dies at 70". New York Times. Retrieved April 21, 2014. 
  3. ^ Santa Barbara (TV Series),; accessed April 21, 2014.
  4. ^ Notice of death of Phyllis Frelich,; accessed April 13, 2014.

External links[edit]