Actress, singer and author, Diahann Carroll was in a class all her own with grace, sophistication and talent that she brought to every role. I first came to admire her as Whitley’s mother on the ground-breaking television sitcom, “A Different World.” I remember seeing her as a kid in 80s on “Dynasty” holding her own against Joan Collins. She always brought a supreme sense of class to any character she portrayed on screen. We now remember her accomplishments and legacy she laid during her lifetime.
Born Carol Diahann Johnson on July 17, 1935, in The Bronx, New York, her father was a subway conductor and her mother was a homemaker. She attended Manhattan’s School of Performing Arts working as a nightclub singer and model. She would later get her first break on Broadway starring in the Harold Arlen/Truman Capote musical, “The House of Flowers” in 1954. Later that year, she made her film debut alongside Dorothy Dandridge in “Carmen Jones.” After seeing her in that production, Richard Rodgers starred her in his Broadway musical “No Strings,” portraying a high-fashion American model in Paris who has a love affair with a White, American author. Carroll won a Tony Award for her performance in “No Strings” and went on to do several more stage plays that include “Same Time, Next Year,” ″Agnes of God” and “Sunset Boulevard.”
Carroll would change the face of Hollywood when she was cast as the lead in “Julia” in 1968. She was the first African-American woman to star in her own television series in an occupation other than a servant. Carroll played Julia Baker, a nurse whose husband had been killed in Vietnam from 1968 to 1971. She was nominated for an Emmy Award for “Julia” in 1969 and won the Golden Globe Award in 1968. During her career, Carroll was nominated for an Academy Award for Best Actress for “Claudine” in 1974 and also appeared in “I Know Why the Caged Bird Sings” in 1979. She also appeared in other films which include “Goodbye Again,” ″Hurry Sundown,” ″Paris Blues,” “The Split” and “Eve’s Bayou.” Carroll gave a powerful performance in the film “Sister, Sister” in 1982 starring Rosalind Cash and Irene Cara, where the three sisters face painful truths about their family.
She would once again chance the face of television in the 80s as Dominique Deveraux on “Dynasty.” Carroll dawned furs and jewels trading quips, slaps and insults with the best of them. Another role which gained her notoriety and admiration was her role on “A Different World” as Marion, Whitley’s southern, aristocratic mother. Carroll received a third Emmy nomination in 1989 for her role on “A Different World.” Some of her most recent appearances include a recurring guest appearance on ABC’s “Grey’s Anatomy” as Jane Burke, mother of Preston Burke portrayed by actor, Isaiah Washington. In the mid-2000s, Carroll made her first club appearance in New York in four decades, singing at Feinstein’s at the Regency.
In 2009, Carroll received the Legend Award at The ESSENCE Black Women in Hollywood Luncheon, an annual event to honor African-American women, who through their work in Hollywood, in front of the camera and behind-the-scenes, have helped to change and inspire positive images of Black women in television and film. In 2013, she was honored at the San Diego Black Film Festival with a lifetime achievement award for television and motion pictures. In 2016, the American Black Film Festival presented Carroll with the 2016 ABFF Honors Hollywood Legacy Award.
Carroll’s marriage to nightclub owner, Monte Kay, blessed the couple with her only child, Suzanne. Her union with singer, Vic Damone, received attention and the two appeared together in nightclubs. They separated in 1991 and eventually divorced.
In 1998, he was treated for breast cancer and campaigned for more money to go towards research for free screening for women who couldn’t afford mammograms. Unfortunately, her daughter told The Associated Press her mother died Friday in Los Angeles due to complications from cancer.
Diahann Carroll was the consummate actress and paved the way for many with her own brand of style, beauty and elegance. Who she was can best be summed up in the out-pouring of love and accolades from Black Hollywood on social media.
“I love you for eternity. With all my heart. I am because of you.” —Kerry Washington
“She was the epitome of beauty, grace and class; an icon for the ages!” —Levar Burton
“We would sit on our rug staring at the Zenith TV and wait for a goddess to appear, Diahann Carroll as ‘Julia’—she was elegant, glamorous, she inspired in 1968, winning a Golden Globe. Goodnight Miss Carroll.”—Victoria Rowell
“She was a mentor, trailblazer and dynamic talent that single handed integrated the Union by demanding to have a Black hairdresser do her hair on her groundbreaking show ‘Julia.’ My deepest condolences go out to her family and all that adored her.”—Vanessa Williams
“To the great Diahann Carroll, thank you for your grace, your beauty, and your love. Working with you was one of the high points of life in ‘A Different World.’ We will miss you dearly.”—Jasmine Guy
“My dear, dear beautiful #DiahannCarroll passed away today. What a pioneer she was in the business… what an incredibly kind soul. We met in High School and continued our friendship for many, many years. The memories and the tears are flowing.” —Billy Dee Williams
“Rest in power my friend!” —Patti LaBelle