Few telegrams shocked the fashionable world in the United States more than that received in mid-August 1880 announcing the sudden death in a French hotel of the English actress Adelaide Neilson. From her first visit to America in 1872 at Booth's Theatre in New York, playing Shakespeare's "Romeo and Juliet," Julia in "The Hunchback," Rosalind in "Twelfth Night" and Pauline in "The Lady from Lyons" until her fourth and final tour in winter of 1879-80, she enjoyed a critical and popular adoration unequaled by any actress of the age, with the possible exception of Lotta Crabtree.
She possessed a mellifluous, tender voice, a lively carriage, beautiful features, and an intelligence than did not forfeit the audience's sympathies. Her second venture to New York in 1874 caused the critics to mourn her departure as the evacuation of art from the American theatre. Her 1876 tour saw her cross the continent and play a term in San Francisco where she won the hearts of West Coast audiences as thoroughly as she had the East.
The number of the roles she regularly played were few: Imogen, Viola, Isabella, Rosalind, and Pauline. She studied each role for years before presenting it - six for Imogen in "Cymbeline," seven for Isabella in "Measure for Measure," and she was studying Phedre when she died. She expired at age 32 from heart failure in full possession of her powers having never experienced an artistic or commercial failure on the stage. Before the emergence of the professional beauty, Neilson reigned in the eyes of the public as the paragon of feminine attractiveness. David S. Shields/ALS