Diahann Carroll, Tony winner, first black woman to star in own TV series, dies at 84

Singer and Tony-winning, Oscar-nominated actress Diahann Carroll, the first African American woman to star in her own TV series, has died at at her home in Los Angeles after a long bout with cancer. She was 84.

Her daughter, Suzanne Kay, confirmed the news.

Carroll is perhaps best remembered by younger audiences for her role as the conniving Dominique Deveraux on the nighttime soap “Dynasty” in the mid-’80s. But her first major television assignment was starring as the middle-class single mother Julia in a 1968 sitcom that was praised for featuring an African American in the title role as much as it was criticized for ignoring the civil rights struggle. The series, which ran for three years, was a trailblazer in leading to greater visibility for African American characters on series television.

The actress characterized by svelte cosmopolitan sophistication had come to television via the musical theater. In the early 1960s she won a Tony as the star of Richard Rodgers’ musical “No Strings”; the role had been written especially for her. Carroll had previously been featured in supporting roles in such films as “Carmen Jones” and “Porgy and Bess.” She was only the fourth black actress to be nominated for the best actress Oscar, for the 1974 romantic drama “Claudine.”

Despite her great beauty and undeniable talents as a performer, Carroll sometimes struggled to find roles. When once asked why she did little film work after “Claudine,” she replied incredulously, “Have you seen another film script with a starring role with the character of Claudine? I haven’t.” She told another reporter, “I’m sometimes amazed at how few people realize what it takes for a black woman to survive in this business.”

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Diahann Carroll through the years
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Diahann Carroll through the years
UNSPECIFIED - JANUARY 01: Photo of Diahann CARROLL; posed, studio (Photo by Gilles Petard/Redferns)
UNDATED: Actress Diahann Carroll performs circa late 1960's. (Photo by Martin Mills/Getty Images)
THE HOLLYWOOD PALACE - Airdate: November 20, 1965. (Photo by Walt Disney Television via Getty Images Photo Archives/Walt Disney Television via Getty Images) DIAHANN CARROLL
American actress, singer and fashion model Diahann Carroll, UK, 18th January 1965. (Photo by Terry Fincher/Daily Express/Hulton Archive/Getty Images)
Headshot of actress Diahann Carroll, as she appears in the television show 'Julia', circa 1968-1970. (Photo by Archive Photos/Getty Images)
JULIA -- Pictured: Diahann Carroll as Julia Baker (Photo by NBC/NBCU Photo Bank via Getty Images)
UNITED STATES - FEBRUARY 26: Walt Disney Television via Getty Images SPECIAL - "The Bob Goulet Special - Starring Robert Goulet" - 1970, The multi-talented Robert Goulet stars in an hour of music, song and comedy. With guest star, Diahann Carroll., (Photo by Walt Disney Television via Getty Images Photo Archives/Walt Disney Television via Getty Images)
Diahann Carroll and David Frost (Photo by Ron Galella/Ron Galella Collection via Getty Images)
Diahann Carroll, actress, singer, arrived in Sydney today for an Opera House concert. November 30, 1973. (Photo by Antony Matheus Linsen/Fairfax Media via Getty Images).
Portrait of African American actress Diahann Carroll, New York, 1973. (Photo by Anthony Barboza/Getty Images)
Actress Diahann Carroll, nominated for the "Best Performance by an Actress" award, for her part in the 1974 motion picture "Claudine," arrives for the 47th annual Academy Awards presentations at the Music Center.
David Frost and Diahann Carroll during David Frost and Diahann Caroll File Photos, California, United States. (Photo by Ron Galella/Ron Galella Collection via Getty Images)
Diahann Carroll (Photo by Ron Galella/Ron Galella Collection via Getty Images)
American actress and singer Diahann Carroll, circa 1980. (Photo by Richard Blanshard/Getty Images)
DYNASTY - "The Roadhouse" - Airdate on December 18, 1985. (Photo by Walt Disney Television via Getty Images Photo Archives/Walt Disney Television via Getty Images) DIAHANN CARROLL
DYNASTY - "The Roadhouse" - Airdate on December 18, 1985. (Photo by Walt Disney Television via Getty Images Photo Archives/Walt Disney Television via Getty Images) DIAHANN CARROLL
DYNASTY - "The Roadhouse" - Airdate on December 18, 1985. (Photo by Walt Disney Television via Getty Images Photo Archives/Walt Disney Television via Getty Images) CALVIN LOCKHART;DIAHANN CARROLL
DYNASTY - "Carrington/Colby's Dinner Party" - Airdate on December 1, 1985. (Photo by Walt Disney Television via Getty Images Photo Archives/Walt Disney Television via Getty Images) RON REAGAN JR.;DIAHANN CARROLL
BEVERLY HILLS, CA - OCTOBER 10: Vic Damone and Diahann Carroll attend ABC TV Affiliates Party on October 10, 1985 at the Beverly Wilshire Hotel in Beverly Hills, California. (Photo by Ron Galella, Ltd./Ron Galella Collection via Getty Images)
LOS ANGELES - JANUARY 1991: American actress singer, film and television star Diahann Carroll soaks in hot tub on the set of television hit series Dynasty in Hollywood California circa 1985 (Photo by NikWheeler/Corbis via Getty Images)
Diahann Carroll attends 37th Annual Primetime Emmy Awards on September 22, 1985 at the Pasadena Civic Auditorium in Pasadena, California. (Photo by Walter McBride/Corbis via Getty Images)
BEVERLY HILLS, CA - JULY 27: Diahann Carroll attends Brinson-Richards Wedding Reception on July 27, 1985 at the Beverly Hills Hotel in Beverly Hills, California. (Photo by Ron Galella/Ron Galella Collection via Getty Images)
LOS ANGELES - 1989 Actress/Singer Diahann Carroll poses for a portrait in 1989 in Los Angeles, California. (Photo by Harry Langdon/Getty Images)
LOS ANGELES - 1989 Actress/Singer Diahann Carroll poses for a portrait in 1989 in Los Angeles, California. (Photo by Harry Langdon/Getty Images)
LOS ANGELES, CA - NOVEMBER 13: Diahann Carroll and Vic Damone attend Salute to Sammy Davis Jr. on November 13, 1989 at the Shrine Auditorium in Los Angeles, California. (Photo by Ron Galella, Ltd./Ron Galella Collection via Getty Images)
Diahann Carroll during Singer's Salute To Songwriters at Dorothy Chandler Pavillion in Los Angeles, California, United States. (Photo by Jim Smeal/Ron Galella Collection via Getty Images)
LOS ANGELES - 1997 Actress/Singer Diahann Carroll poses for a portrait in 1997 in Los Angeles, California. (Photo by Harry Langdon/Getty Images)
BEVERLY HILLS, CA - JUNE 12: Diahann Carroll attends Women In Film Crystal Awards on June 12, 1992 at the Beverly Hilton Hotel in Beverly Hills, California. (Photo by Ron Galella, Ltd./Ron Galella Collection via Getty Images)
Diahann Carroll during Benefit For The Savation Army at Mara A Lago Estate in Palm Beach, Florida, United States. (Photo by Ron Galella/Ron Galella Collection via Getty Images)
(Original Caption) Diahann Carroll, the Duchess of York and Denise Richards. (Photo by Steve Azzara/Corbis via Getty Images)
Diahann Carroll during 5th Annual Women In Film Lucy Awards at Beverly Wilshire Hotel in Beverly Hills, California, United States. (Photo by Jim Smeal/Ron Galella Collection via Getty Images)
Portrait of American singer and actress Diahann Carroll, New York, New York, early 1990s. (Photo by Anthony Barboza/Getty Images)
LOS ANGELES - 1990: Actress Diahann Carrol poses for a portrait in 1990 in Los Angeles, California. (Photo by Harry Langdon/Getty Images)
UNITED STATES - MARCH 17: Diahann Carroll (Photo by The LIFE Picture Collection via Getty Images)
UNITED STATES - MARCH 17: Diahann Carroll (Photo by The LIFE Picture Collection via Getty Images)
UNITED STATES - MARCH 17: Diahann Carroll (Photo by The LIFE Picture Collection via Getty Images)
UNITED STATES - MARCH 17: Diahann Carroll (Photo by The LIFE Picture Collection via Getty Images)
Diahann Carroll during The Pacific Pioneer Hosts A Luncheon In Honor of Diahann Carroll at Sportsmen's Lodge in Studio City, California, United States. (Photo by Ron Galella/Ron Galella Collection via Getty Images)
05/16/00 New York City New Dramatists honors stage & screen legend Angela Lansbury with Lifetime Achievement Award, at the N.Y. Marriott Marquis in Manhattan. Diahann Carroll Photo by Evan Agostini/ImageDirect
Seated, smiling portrait of American actress Diahann Carroll, New York, 2000. (Photo by Anthony Barboza/Getty Images)
BEVERLY HILLS, CA - JUNE 28: Actress Diahann Carroll attends the 30th Annual Vision Awards To Fight Blindness Gala at the Beverly Hilton Hotel on June 28, 2003 in Beverly Hills, California. (Photo by Frazer Harrison/Getty Images)
BEVERLY HILLS, CA - APRIL 14: Actress Diahann Carrol attends the Beverly Hills Ball 50th Anniversary Gala and benefit on April 14, 2003 in Beverly Hills, California. (Photo by Vince Bucci/Getty Images)
HOLLYWOOD - MARCH 2: Actresses Halle Berry (R) and Diahann Carroll pose backstage at the TV Land Awards 2003 at the Hollywood Palladium on March 2, 2003 in Hollywood, California. Carroll recieved the "Ground Breaking Role Award" for the show "Julia". (Photo by Robert Mora/Getty Images)
Diahann Carroll during Academy of Television Arts & Sciences 60th Anniversary - Inside and Reception at Leonard H. Goldenson Theatre in North Hollywood, California, United States. (Photo by Mathew Imaging/FilmMagic for Academy of Television Arts and Sciences)
UNITED STATES - AUGUST 09: GREY'S ANATOMY - "I Am a Tree" - Cristina meets Burke's parents -- and in the most awkward of circumstances -- the interns campaign for Izzie's reinstatement to the surgical intern program, Addison takes a break from her hospital duties, and a surgical patient lives what may be her last day to the fullest, on "Grey's Anatomy," THURSDAY, SEPTEMBER 28 (9:00-10:01 p.m., ET) on the Walt Disney Television via Getty Images Television Network. (Photo by Vivian Zink/Walt Disney Television via Getty Images)
WHITE COLLAR -- "Empire City" Episode 213 -- Pictured: Diahann Carroll as June -- (Photo by: David Giesbrecht/USA Network/NBCU Photo Bank via Getty Images)
LOS ANGELES, CA - OCTOBER 06: Diahann Carroll poses for a photo on the red carpet at 'An Artful Evening At CAAM' at California African American Museum on October 6, 2012 in Los Angeles, California. (Photo by Earl Gibson III/WireImage)
BEVERLY HILLS, CA - JUNE 12: Singer Diahann Carroll attends the 2012 Women In Film Crystal + Lucy Awards at The Beverly Hilton Hotel on June 12, 2012 in Beverly Hills, California. (Photo by Jason LaVeris/FilmMagic)
Actress Diahann Carroll attends The Paley Center For Media's Tribute To African-American Achievements In Television at the Beverly Wilshire Four Seasons Hotel on October 26, 2015 in Beverly Hills, California. (Photo by Paul Archuleta/FilmMagic)
HOLLYWOOD, CA - MAY 31: Actress Diahann Carroll accepts the honor of the Mary Pickford Award from the Hollywood Chamber's Hollywood Community Foundation at Taglyan Cultural Complex on May 31, 2018 in Hollywood, California. (Photo by Chrissy Hampton/Getty Images)
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Carroll made her Broadway debut at age 19 in the Harold Arlen musical “House of Flowers,” and though it was short-lived, Carroll’s notices brought her substantial attention and led to her first movie role in “Carmen Jones.” It would be followed by a role in the 1959 film version of “Porgy and Bess.” Carroll made her TV debut on “The Red Skelton Show” and appeared on other variety programs fronted by Steve Allen, Garry Moore, Jack Paar and Danny Kaye, as well as on “The Ed Sulivan Show.” She acted in TV dramas including “Peter Gunn” and “Naked City.”

Her early recordings include “Porgy and Bess” with the Andre Previn Trio, “Diahann Carroll Sings Harold Arlen,” “Best Beat Forward” and “Showstopper.” Later recordings include her 1978 tribute to Ethel Waters and 1997’s “The Time of My Life.”

Her dramatic film debut came in 1960 in “Paris Blues,” opposite Sidney Poitier, followed by a small role in the French drama “Goodbye Again.”

After having seen her in “House of Flowers,” songwriter Richard Rodgers promised he would one day write a vehicle for Carroll. That turned out to be “No Strings,” the 1962 musical about an interracial romance between a writer and a fashion model.

“Miss Carroll brings glowing personal beauty to the role of the model and her singing captures many moods,” the New York Times said. For her work Carroll picked up the Tony as best actress in a musical.

In between concert and nightclub appearances, Carroll appeared in such film dramas as 1967’s “Hurry Sundown” and “The Split,” made the following year. Then in 1968 she starred in the series “Julia,” a first for an African American actress, following in the footsteps of Bill Cosby a few short years earlier in “I Spy.” Premiering at the height of the civil rights struggle, “Julia,” with its decidedly apolitical, middle class heroine, was attacked by militants for being too lenient to the white community. But Carroll persevered, and the series proved popular in its three-season run, opening doors to other series led by African Americans.

The 1974 feature “Claudine,” which co-starred James Earl Jones, was another rarity, a role for a strong, independent African American woman with deep roots in family. Her work brought Carroll an Oscar nomination as best actress.

Several TV movies followed over the next decade including “Death Scream,” “I Know Why the Caged Bird Sings,” “Sister, Sister,” “Murder in Black and White,” “From the Dead of Night” and miniseries “Roots: The Next Generation.”

Carroll returned to series television in the mid-’80s for “Dynasty,” where she stepped out of her nice-girl persona to portray the scheming, deceitful Dominique Deveraux.

She returned to the bigscreen in 1991 for an appearance in musical film “The Five Heartbeats” and again in 1997 for the well-regarded drama “Eve’s Bayou.”

Carroll also occupied herself with theater projects including “Agnes of God” on Broadway in 1982 and “Same Time, Next Year” in Los Angeles; she starred as Norma Desmond in the Toronto production of Andrew Lloyd Webber’s “Sunset Boulevard” in 1995.

Notable telepics later in her career included “Having Our Say: The Delany Sisters’ First 100 Years,” alongside Ruby Dee, and “Sally Hemings: An American Scandal.”

Carroll recurred on series including “A Different World” (drawing an Emmy nomination in 1989), “Lonesome Dove: The Series,” “Grey’s Anatomy” (picking up another Emmy nom in 2008), “Diary of a Single Mom” and on USA’s “White Collar” as June Ellington.

Carroll made her first New York nightclub appearance in 40 years with the 2006 offering “The Life and Times of Diahann Carroll,” drawing an ecstatic review from the New York Times: “An astonishingly youthful and glamorous 70-year-old grandmother, she presents herself as a down-to-earth realist about the joys and rigors of show business. … Her air of casually worn grandeur only enhances the unpretentious honesty of her recollections.”

In 2010 she appeared, along with a number of other notable women, in the breast cancer documentary “1 a Minute.”

She appeared in the Tina Gordon Chism-helmed film “Peeples” in 2013.

Carol Diahann Johnson hailed from the Bronx and attended the High School of Music & Art in Manhattan, where she also began modeling for African American publications. She enrolled at NYU to study sociology, but after winning recognition on the TV talent show “Chance of a Lifetime,” she left school and was booked by Lou Walters (father of Barbara Walters) into the Latin Quarter nightclub for a one-week engagement. The run was expanded to four weeks and succeeded by other nightclub appearances. Then she made her Broadway and bigscreen debuts.

In 1986, Carroll released her frank autobiography “Diahann,” which detailed the triumphs of her professional life and some of the torments of her personal life.

Carroll was married four times, to talent manager and music producer Monte Kay, retailer Fred Glusman, editor Robert DeLeon and singer Vic Damone. Survivors include a daughter, Suzanne Kay, a journalist and screenwriter, and two grandchildren, August and Sydney.

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