The iconic Oscar-nominated and Tony Award-winning actress Diahann Carroll passed away Friday from cancer, as reported by The Washington Post. The TV legend made headlines back in the ’60s when she starred in the NBC sitcom Julia.
Although Carroll said she never intended to break down racial barriers, that’s exactly what she did during her prolific career. Her groundbreaking first started when she was cast as Julia Baker, a nurse who had to figure out how to navigate life as a single mother after her husband was killed in Vietnam during the war. It was the first time a black woman was cast in a lead role who had a job other than servitude. Ethel Waters was the first leading black woman on television, but she played a maid.
Julia proved to be a hit and lasted from 1968 to 1971. Carroll then went on to what is arguably her most notable role. In 1974, she was cast in the movie Claudine, where she played a single mother living in Harlem who enters into a relationship with a garbage man, played by James Earl Jones. Her work in that movie earned her an Oscar nomination.
Carroll was breaking down barriers well before she found her way to the screen, however. She graced the Broadway stage with her impeccable acting and beautiful singing voice. In 1959, she was cast in Richard Roger’s No Strings, a move that ultimately won her a Tony Award for her portrayal of a high-fashion American model in Paris who had an affair with a white American author. She then went on to play characters that were — until her — dominated by white actresses.
In the ’80s, Carroll found her way back to the small screen when she joined the cast of Dynasty, the ABC soap that ran from ’81-’89. Her character, Dominique Deveraux, often found herself in physical confrontations with Joan Collins’ character, Alexis Carrington. These battles were considered fan favorites.
Carroll didn’t let the color of her skin stop her from acting, and, as the new millennium started, she didn’t let her age stop her, either. In the past decade, she guest-starred on Grey’s Anatomy as the mother of Isaiah Washington’s character, Dr. Preston Burke, as well as on White Collar as the sage-like landlord to Matt Bomer’s Neal Caffrey.
The actress also became an activist after her treatment for breast cancer in 1998. She advocated for research and development of better breast cancer treatment options, along with free mastectomies for those who couldn’t afford the often life-saving exams.
Carroll’s love life was tumultuous, and she was linked to many different men throughout her life, including Sammy Davis Jr., Henry Belafonte, Duke Ellington, Sidney Poitier, and Miles Davis. She ended up marrying three times, although she only had one child, Suzanne, whom she had with her first husband, nightclub owner Monte Kay.
When news broke of Carroll’s passing, many celebrities took to Twitter to express their condolences and share memories of the iconic star.
Esteemed director Ava DuVernay wrote how the actress was “one of the all-time greats.”
Diahann Carroll walked this earth for 84 years and broke ground with every footstep. An icon. One of the all-time greats. She blazed trails through dense forests and elegantly left diamonds along the path for the rest of us to follow. Extraordinary life. Thank you, Ms. Carroll. pic.twitter.com/YXjh7d3LWU
— Ava DuVernay (@ava) October 4, 2019
“I loved & cherished and idolized her like a daughter…” Holly Robinson-Peete expressed, adding broken-heart emoji to her post.
This one cuts deeply. My mom & Ms Diahann were friends since they were 14. She was a pioneer on so many levels. She made me believe I could be on television! I loved & cherished and idolized her like a daughter…. ????????
RIP Diahann Carroll thank you for the gift of your life???????? pic.twitter.com/StN2c5vGDN
— Holly????Robinson????Peete (@hollyrpeete) October 4, 2019
Choreographer Debbie Allen also commented on how much she owes to the star.
“We are stronger, more beautiful and risk takers because of you.”
Diahann Carroll you taught us so much. We are stronger, more beautiful and risk takers because of you. We will forever sing your praises and speak your name. Love Love Love, Debbie???? pic.twitter.com/1LBUUa2Ql3
— Debbie Allen (@msdebbieallen) October 4, 2019
Carroll is survived by her daughter and her two grandchildren, August and Sydney.