Born November 26, 1942, in Memphis, Tennessee, Olivia Carlena Cole later moved with her parents to New York, where she attended Hunter College High School and Bard College. She also graduated from London's Royal Academy of Dramatic Art.
Cole made her Broadway debut in 1966 in a revival of The School for Scandal. The actor worked steadily on Broadway for nearly a decade, also appearing in Right You Are If You Think You Are; We, Comrades Three; You Can't Take It with You; War and Peace; The Merchant of Venice; and, in 1974, the original satire The National Health. The latter, which ran a little over a month, marked Cole's final Broadway appearance.
It was the small screen, however, where Cole would garner the most attention, winning the aforementioned Emmy for her work in Roots and garnering a second nomination in 1979 for her performance as Maggie Rogers in Backstairs at the White House.
Other notable screen credits included Oprah Winfrey's miniseries The Women of Brewster Place and the Tracy Morgan film First Sunday as well as numerous appearances on Police Woman, L.A. Law, and Murder, She Wrote.
One of Cole's final credits was a 2016 production of Emily Mann's Having Our Say at the Long Wharf Theatre and Hartford Stage in Connecticut.
A marriage to actor Richard Venture, who passed away in December 2017, ended in divorce.
For over three decades the respected actor resided in San Miguel de Allende, where she held readings of plays by William Shakespeare. She has no immediate survivors.