Versalle was born in Muskegon, Michigan. After serving in the submarine branch of the US Navy, he worked in business while studying singing.He was initially known as a concert and oratorio singer and did not make his operatic stage debut until the age of 45 when he sang Augustin Moser in Die Meistersinger von Nürnberg at Chicago Lyric Opera.
Richard Lee Versalle (3 December 1932 – 5 January 1996) was an American operatic tenor. He specialised in the heroic tenor roles such as the title role in Otello, Florestan in Fidelio, Tristan in Tristan und Isolde, and most notably the title role in Tannhäuser, which he sang at Bayreuth in 1985, 1986, 1987, and 1989, as well as in Genoa, Tokyo, Vienna, Bonn, and the Met.
Versalle made his debut at the Metropolitan Opera on 8 December 1978, when he sang the minor role of the Messenger in Aida. After that, he sang primarily in Europe, having made his European debut in 1981 as Verdi’s Otello at the Saarbrücken opera house . At Saarbrücken he also sang the title role in Peter Grimes and Siegmund in Die Walküre (1988). He returned to the Met in 1992 when he sang Tannhäuser. He was at the Met again in 1995 singing Jacob Schmidt in John Dexter’s production of Rise and Fall of the City of Mahagonny.
On 5 January 1996, Versalle was singing the role of Vitek, a law clerk, at the Metropolitan Opera premiere of Janáček’s The Makropulos Case, sung in English translation. Only a few minutes into the performance, after singing the line “You can only live so long” whilst halfway up a 20-foot (6-meter) ladder, he suffered a heart attack, and fell to the stage. The performance was halted, and ultimately cancelled. Versalle was taken to St. Luke’s-Roosevelt Hospital, where he was pronounced dead on arrival. His death was reported that same evening.
Versalle was married twice. His first marriage produced four children, one of whom died from AIDS. He and his second wife, the former Alexis Darden, had a daughter, Tess. His widow and his four remaining children survived him.