Diahann Carroll (1935-2019)

Diahann Carroll in Julia
Diahann Carroll in Julia
Image Courtesy of ©Bettmann/CORBIS

Actress Diahann Carroll was born July 17, 1935 in the Bronx, New York but grew up in Harlem.  She received her education and her theater training at Manhattan’s School of Performing Arts.

At the age of 19, Carroll received her first film role when she was cast as a supporting actress in the 1954 film Carmen Jones which starred Dorothy Dandridge and Harry Belafonte.  After her film debut, Carroll starred in the Broadway musical House of Flowers.  In 1959, she returned to film in Gershwin’s Porgy and Bess where she performed with an all-star cast that included Sidney Poitier, Dorothy Dandridge, Sammy Davis Jr., and Pearl Mae Bailey.

In 1962, Carroll made history when she became the first African American woman to receive a Tony Award for best actress.  She was recognized for her role as Barbara Woodruff in the musical No Strings.  Another historical moment occurred when Carroll won the lead role for Julia in 1968, becoming the first African American actress to star in her own television series as someone other than a domestic worker.  The show also broke ground by portraying Carroll as a single parent.  She played a recently widowed nurse who raised her son alone.  In 1968, Carroll won a Golden Globe Award for “Best Actress in a Television Series” for her work in Julia.  One year later, she was nominated for an Emmy Award for her role in the series.

In 1974, Carroll was nominated for both an Academy Award and a Golden Globe award for best actress for her starring role in the film Claudine.  Carroll played a struggling domestic worker single mother of six trying to make ends meet when she falls in love with a garbage collector portrayed by James Earl Jones.

During the 1980s, Carroll joined the cast of the prime time soap opera Dynasty where she played a wealthy socialite.  In the 2000s, Carroll continued to perform, making guest appearances on several series, including Soul Food, Grey’s Anatomy, White Collar.

Carroll survived breast cancer in the 1990s and then became an important advocate for breast cancer awareness.  In 2001, she made news by allowing her breast cancer surgery to be filmed. She suffered a recurrence of the disease and died due to complications from breast cancer on October 4, 2019, in Los Angeles. She was 84 years old. She is survived by her daughter Suzanne and two grandchildren.