Tony Award Winner and Oscar Nominee Diahann Carroll Dies at 84

Obituaries   Tony Award Winner and Oscar Nominee Diahann Carroll Dies at 84
 
The No Strings and Julia star was the first black woman to win the Tony for Best Actress in a Musical.
Diahann Carroll in <i>No Strings</i>
Diahann Carroll in No Strings Friedman-Abeles/New York Public Library

Diahann Carroll, who earned a historic Tony Award and garnered further acclaim for her varied screen performances, died October 4 at the age of 84. Her death, following a long battle with cancer, was confirmed to The Hollywood Reporter by her daughter Suzanne Kay.

Ms. Carroll made history in 1962, becoming the first black woman to win the Best Actress in a Musical Tony Award for her performance in No Strings. She previously made her Broadway debut in 1954 in House of Flowers, appearing opposite Pearl Bailey and Alvin Ailey. That year also marked her film debut, playing Myrt in Carmen Jones; five years later, she'd return to the big screen for another movie musical: Porgy and Bess (playing Clara, though her singing was dubbed).

Diahann Carroll HR Obit
Diahann Carroll

Her additional stage credits included a replacement stint in Agnes of God and opening the 1995 Canadian premiere of Sunset Boulevard as Norma Desmond.

However, Ms. Carroll perhaps reached the most widespread recognition for her work in the title role of the '60s series Julia. As widowed nurse Julia Baker, Ms. Carroll offered audiences a look into the complexities and plights of an upper-middle class black woman—which had not yet been represented on screen. Her performance earned her a Golden Globe and Emmy nomination in 1969.

After Julia ended in 1971, Ms. Carroll followed up her screen career with another acclaimed title role, in the 1974 Harlem-set movie Claudine. This led to her Oscar nomination the following year.

Though she acted in a number of films after, including Sister, Sister and the musical The Five Heartbeats, Ms. Carroll felt the movie career eluded her. "Absolutely not," she told Playbill, laughing, at the prospect of returning to the stage 11 years after Sunset Boulevard. "I think it's a wonderful thing to do and to have as a memory, but no... I would have loved more opportunity to do film."

She added, "I'm so jealous that more often than not that kind of career is offered to white actresses...The world is not as aware as they have become now and probably will continue to become of the black American. So when one begins to put a project together, the first thought is, 'What will it earn?' and 'What will it earn worldwide?' And that's why it's important for us to keep pushing that door [open, so] the world knows more about African-Americans."

Holding the distinction as the first African-American woman to headline her own primetime TV show with Julia, Ms. Carroll continued to be a mainstay on the small screen on such shows as Dynasty and its spin-off The Colbys (playing Dominique Deveraux), A Different World, Lonesome Dove, Grey's Anatomy, White Collar, and, most recently, Diary of a Single Mom.

Born Carol Diahann Johnson July 17, 1935, Ms. Carroll grew up in Harlem and attended the High School of Music and Art. "I'm a New York lady, born and raised," she said, "and [was] exposed to everything this wonderful city had to offer, and my mother enjoyed exposing me to all of it." Continuing their support, her parents guided a teenage Johnson through multiple TV talent shows as a teen, adopting her stage name as a contestant on Arthur Godfrey's Talent Scouts. She attended New York University, studying psychology before leaving to pursue performing full-time.

Ms. Carroll is survived by Kay and two grandchildren.

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