Wikipedia Encyclopedia

Diahann Carroll

Diahann Carroll

Diahann Carroll (/dˈæn/; born Carol Diann Johnson; July 17, 1935 – October 4, 2019) was an American actress, singer, model, and activist. She rose to prominence in some of the earliest major studio films to feature black casts, including Carmen Jones (1954) and Porgy and Bess (1959). In 1962, Carroll won a Tony Award for Best Actress in a Musical, a first for an African-American woman, for her role in the Broadway musical No Strings. In 1974 she starred in Claudine alongside James Earl Jones for which she was nominated for an Academy Award for Best Actress.

Diahann Carroll
Publicity photo, 1976
Carol Diann Johnson

(1935-07-17)July 17, 1935
DiedOctober 4, 2019(2019-10-04) (aged 84)
Alma materNew York University
  • Actress
  • singer
  • model
  • activist
Years active1950–2016
  • (m. 1956; div. 1963)
  • Fred Glusman
    (m. 1973; div. 1973)
  • Robert DeLeon
    (m. 1975; died 1977)
  • (m. 1987; div. 1996)
Partner(s)Sidney Poitier (1959–1968)
David Frost (1970–1973)

Her title role in Julia, for which she received the 1968 Golden Globe Award for Best Actress In a Television Series, was the first series on American television to star a black woman in a non-stereotypical role,[1] and was a milestone both in her career and the medium. In the 1980s, she played the role of Dominique Deveraux, a mixed-race diva, in the prime time soap opera Dynasty. Carroll was the recipient of numerous stage and screen nominations and awards, including her Tony Award in 1962, Golden Globe Award in 1968, and five Emmy Award nominations. She died on October 4, 2019, from breast cancer.[2]

Early years

Carroll, by Carl Van Vechten, 1955

Carol Diann Johnson was born in the Bronx, New York City, on July 17, 1935,[3] to John Johnson, a subway conductor, and Mabel (Faulk),[4] a nurse.[5][6]:152 While Carroll was still an infant, the family moved to Harlem, where she grew up except for a brief period in which her parents had left her with an aunt in North Carolina.[7][6]:152[8] She attended Music and Art High School,[9][3][7] and was a classmate of Billy Dee Williams. In many interviews about her childhood, Carroll recalls her parents' support, and their enrolling her in dance, singing, and modeling classes. By the time Carroll was 15, she was modeling for Ebony.[5][9] "She also began entering television contests, including Arthur Godfrey's Talent Scouts, under the name Diahann Carroll."[5][3][6]:152 After graduating from high school, she attended New York University,[3] where she majored in sociology,[6]:152 "but she left before graduating to pursue a show-business career, promising her family that if the career did not materialize after two years, she would return to college."[5]


Carroll's big break came at the age of 18, when she appeared as a contestant on the DuMont Television Network program, Chance of a Lifetime, hosted by Dennis James.[5][7][6]:152 On the show, which aired January 8, 1954, she took the $1,000 top prize for a rendition of the Jerome Kern/Oscar Hammerstein song, "Why Was I Born?" She went on to win the following four weeks. Engagements at Manhattan's Café Society and Latin Quarter nightclubs soon followed.[10]

Carroll's film debut was a supporting role in Carmen Jones (1954),[5][9][3] as a friend to the sultry lead character played by Dorothy Dandridge. That same year, she was nominated for a Tony Award for Best Featured Actress in a Musical for her role in the Broadway musical, House of Flowers.[5][3] A few years later, she played Clara in the film version of George Gershwin's Porgy and Bess (1959), but her character's singing parts were dubbed by opera singer Loulie Jean Norman.[5][9][3] The following year, Carroll made a guest appearance in the series Peter Gunn, in the episode "Sing a Song of Murder" (1960). In the next two years, she starred with Sidney Poitier, Paul Newman, and Joanne Woodward in the film Paris Blues (1961)[5] and won the 1962 Tony Award for best actress (the first time for a Black woman) for portraying Barbara Woodruff in the Samuel A. Taylor and Richard Rodgers musical No Strings.[1][5][9][3] Twelve years later, she was nominated for an Academy Award for Best Actress for her starring role alongside James Earl Jones in the film Claudine (1974),[1][5][9][3] which part had been written specifically for actress Diana Sands (who had made guest appearances on Julia as Carroll's cousin Sara), but shortly before filming was to begin, Sands learned she was terminally ill with cancer. Sands attempted to carry on with the role, but as filming began, she became too ill to continue and recommended her friend Carroll take over the role.[9] Sands died in September 1973, before the film's release in April 1974.[9]

Carroll and Sammy Davis Jr. on The Hollywood Palace, 1968

Carroll is known for her titular role in the television series Julia (1968),[5][3][6]:141–151 which made her the first African-American actress to star in her own television series who did not play a domestic worker.[1][9] That role won her the Golden Globe Award for "Best Actress In A Television Series" for its first year,[3][11] and a nomination for an Emmy Award in 1969.[3] Some of Carroll's earlier work also included appearances on shows hosted by Johnny Carson, Judy Garland, Merv Griffin, Jack Paar, and Ed Sullivan, and on The Hollywood Palace variety show. In 1984, Carroll joined the nighttime soap opera Dynasty at the end of its fourth season as the mixed-race jet set diva Dominique Deveraux,[5] Blake Carrington's half-sister.[9] Her high-profile role on Dynasty also reunited her with her schoolmate Billy Dee Williams, who briefly played her onscreen husband Brady Lloyd. Carroll remained on the show and made several appearances on its short-lived spin-off, The Colbys until she departed at the end of the seventh season in 1987. In 1989, she began the recurring role of Marion Gilbert in A Different World, for which she received her third Emmy nomination that same year.[9]

In 1991, Carroll portrayed Eleanor Potter, the doting, concerned, and protective wife of Jimmy Potter (portrayed by Chuck Patterson), in the musical drama film The Five Heartbeats (1991),[3] also featuring actor and musician Robert Townsend and Michael Wright. She reunited with Billy Dee Williams again in 1995, portraying his character's wife Mrs. Greyson in Lonesome Dove: The Series. The following year, Carroll starred as the self-loving and deluded silent movie star Norma Desmond in the Canadian production of Andrew Lloyd Webber's musical version of the film Sunset Boulevard. In 2001, Carroll made her animation debut in The Legend of Tarzan,[12] in which she voiced Queen La,[13] ruler of the ancient city of Opar.[14]

In 2006, Carroll appeared in several episodes the television medical drama Grey's Anatomy as Jane Burke, the demanding mother of Dr. Preston Burke. From 2008 to 2014, she appeared on USA Network's series White Collar in the recurring role of June, the savvy widow who rents out her guest room to Neal Caffrey.[15] In 2010, Carroll was featured in UniGlobe Entertainment's breast cancer docudrama titled 1 a Minute, and appeared as Nana in two Lifetime movie adaptations of Patricia Cornwell novels: At Risk and The Front.[16]

In 2013, Carroll was present on stage at the 65th Primetime Emmy Awards to briefly speak about being the first African-American nominated for a Primetime Emmy Award. She was quoted as saying about Kerry Washington, nominated for Scandal, "she better get this award."[17]

Personal life

Carroll was married four times. Her father boycotted the ceremony for her first wedding, in 1956, to record producer Monte Kay,[5][9] which was presided over by Adam Clayton Powell Jr. at the Abyssinian Baptist Church in Harlem. The marriage ended in 1962.[18] Carroll gave birth to her daughter, Suzanne Kay (born September 9, 1960), who became a journalist and screenwriter.[5][19][20]

In 1959, Carroll began a nine-year affair with the married actor Sidney Poitier.[5][7] In her autobiography, Carroll said Poitier persuaded her to divorce her husband and said he would leave his wife to be with her. While she proceeded with her divorce, Poitier did not keep his part of the bargain.[21] Eventually he divorced his wife. According to Poitier, their relationship ended because he wanted to live with Carroll for six months without her daughter present so he would not be "jumping from one marriage straight into another." She refused.[22]

Carroll dated and was engaged to British television host and producer David Frost from 1970 until 1973.[5][7] In February 1973, Carroll surprised the press by marrying Las Vegas boutique owner Fred Glusman.[5][9] After four months of marriage Glusman filed for divorce in June 1973. Carroll filed a response, but did not contest the divorce, which was finalized two months later.[7][23] Glusman was reportedly physically abusive.[24]

On May 25, 1975, Carroll, then aged 39, married Robert DeLeon, the 24-year-old managing editor of Jet magazine.[5][9] They met when DeLeon assigned himself to a cover story on Carroll about her 1975 Oscar nomination for Claudine.[25] DeLeon had a child from a previous marriage. Carroll moved to Chicago where Jet was headquartered, but DeLeon soon quit his job so the couple relocated to Oakland.[25] Carroll was widowed when DeLeon was killed in a car crash on March 31, 1977.[7][26][27] Carroll's fourth and final marriage was to singer Vic Damone in 1987.[5][9] The union, which Carroll admitted was turbulent, had a legal separation in 1991, reconciliation, and divorce in 1996.[7][28][29]

Charitable work

Carroll was a founding member of the Celebrity Action Council, a volunteer group of celebrity women who served the women's outreach of the Los Angeles Mission, working with women in rehabilitation from problems with alcohol, drugs, or prostitution. She helped to form the group along with other female television personalities including Mary Frann, Linda Gray, Donna Mills, and Joan Van Ark.[30]

Illness, death, and memorial

Carroll was diagnosed with breast cancer in 1997. She said the diagnosis "stunned" her, because there was no family history of breast cancer, and she had always led a healthy lifestyle. She underwent nine weeks of radiation therapy and had been clear for years after the diagnosis. She frequently spoke of the need for early detection and prevention of the disease.[9][31] She died from cancer at her home in West Hollywood, California on October 4, 2019, at the age of 84.[9][5] Carroll also had dementia at the time of her death, though actor Marc Copage, who played her character's son on Julia, said that she did not appear to show serious signs of cognitive decline as late as 2017.[32]

A memorial service was held in November 24, 2019, at the Helen Hayes Theater in New York City.



Year Title Role Notes
1954Carmen JonesMyrt[3][5][9]
1959Porgy and BessClara[3][5][9]
1961Goodbye AgainNight Club Singer[9]
Paris BluesConnie Lampson[9]
1967Hurry SundownVivian Turlow[5][9][7]
1968The SplitEllen "Ellie" Kennedy[5][9]
1990Mo' Better BluesJazz Club SingerUncredited
1991The Five HeartbeatsEleanor Potter[7][12]
1992Color AdjustmentHerself[33][34]
1997Eve's BayouElzora[12]
2013Tyler Perry Presents PeeplesNana Peeples[35][36]
2016The Masked SaintMs. Edna(final film role)[12]


Year Title Role Notes Ref
1954Chance of a LifetimeHerselfFour consecutive weeks as a contestant[5][7]
1954The Red Skelton HourHerself1 episode[7]
1955General Electric TheaterAnnaEpisode: "Winner by Decision"[7]
1957–61The Jack Paar Tonight ShowHerself28 episodes[7][6]:152
1957–68The Ed Sullivan ShowHerself9 episodes[7]
1959–62The Garry Moore ShowHerself8 episodes[37]:173–177
1960Peter GunnDina WrightEpisode: "Sing a Song of Murder"[7][6]:152
1960The Man in the MoonTV movie[7][12]
1962What's My Line?Mystery GuestEpisode: Diahann Carroll[7][38]
1962Naked CityRuby JayEpisode: "A Horse Has a Big Head!"[7][6]:152
1963The Eleventh HourStella YoungEpisode: "And God Created Vanity"[7][6]:152[12]
1963–75The Merv Griffin ShowHerself2 episodes[7]
1964The Judy Garland ShowHerselfEpisode 21[7][6]:152
1964–69The Hollywood PalaceHerself10 episodes[7]
1965The Dean Martin ShowHerself1 Episode (First Dean Martin Show
1967–71The Carol Burnett ShowHerself2 episodes[37]:25,31
1968–71JuliaJulia Baker86 episodes[5][3][1][9]
1972–86The Dick Cavett ShowHerself3 episodes[39][40][41]
1972The New Bill Cosby ShowHerself1 episode[42]
1975Death ScreamBetty MayTV movie[7]
1976The Diahann Carroll ShowHerself4 episodes[6]:154
1977The Love BoatRoxy BlueEpisode: "Isaac the Groupie"[7][12]
1977–78Hollywood SquaresHerself11 episodes[7]
1978Star Wars Holiday SpecialMermeia HolographicChristmas Special[7]
1979Roots: The Next GenerationsZeona HaleyEpisode: Part VI (1939-1950)[5][7][6]:154
1979I Know Why the Caged Bird SingsVivianTV movie[5][7][6]:154
1982Sister, SisterCarolyne LovejoyTV movie[3][7][6]:154
1984–87DynastyDominique Deveraux74 episodes[3][20]
1985–86The ColbysDominique Deveraux7 episodes[3][20]
1989From the Dead of NightMaggieTelevision Movie[7][6]:156
1989–93A Different WorldMarion Gilbert9 episodes[5][3]
1990Murder in Black and WhiteMargo StoverTelevision Movie[7][6]:156
1991Sunday in ParisVernetta ChaseTV short[7]
1993The Sinbad ShowMrs. WintersEpisode: "My Daughter's Keeper"[7]
1994Burke's LawGrace GibsonEpisode: "Who Killed the Beauty Queen?"[7]
1994Evening ShadeGingerEpisode: "The Perfect Woman"[7]
1994–95Lonesome Dove: The SeriesIda Grayson7 episodes[3][7]
1994A Perry Mason Mystery:
The Case of the Lethal Lifestyle
Lydia BishopTV Movie[7]
1995Touched by an AngelGrace WillisEpisode: "The Driver"[7]
1998The Sweetest GiftMrs. WilsonTV Movie[7]
1999Having Our Say:
The Delany Sisters' First 100 Years
Sadie DelanyTV movie[5][7][6]:156
1999Jackie's BackHerselfTV movie[7]
1999Twice in a LifetimeJael2 episodes[7]
2000The Courage to LovePouponneTV movie[7]
2000Sally Hemings: An American ScandalBetty HemingsMiniseries[7][6]:156
2000Happily Ever After: Fairy Tales for Every ChildCrowEpisode: "Aesop's Fables: A Whodunit Musical"[43]
2000Livin' for Love: The Natalie Cole StoryMaria ColeTV movie[7]
2001The Legend of TarzanQueen LaVoice, 3 episodes[12][13]
2002The CourtJustice DeSett6 episodes[7]
2002Half & HalfGrandma Ruth ThorneEpisode: "The Big Thanks for Forgiving Episode"[7]
2003Strong MedicineEve MortonEpisode: "Love and Let Die"[7]
2003–04Soul FoodAunt Ruthie2 episodes[12][7]
2004WhoopiViveca RaeEpisode: "Mother's Little Helper"[7]
2006–07Grey's AnatomyJane Burke5 episodes[5][9][3][20]
2008Back to YouSandra JenkinsEpisode: "Hug & Tell"[7]
2008Over the River...Life of Lydia Maria Child,
Abolitionist for Freedom
2009–14White CollarJune Ellington25 episodes[5][9][3][20]
2010At RiskNana MaryTV movie[45]
2010The FrontNana EvelynTV movie[45]
2010Diahann Carroll:
The Lady. The Music. The Legend
HerselfFilmed live in concert in Palm Springs, California[46]
2010–11Diary of a Single MomJane Marco7 episodes[3]


Year Title Role Venue Ref.
1954House of FlowersOttillie (alias Violet)Alvin Theatre, Broadway[7]
1962No StringsBarbara Woodroff54th Street Theatre, Broadway[7]
1977Same Time, Next YearDorisHuntington Hartford Theatre[9]
1979Black BroadwayPerformerBenefit concert
1983Agnes of GodDr. Martha LivingstoneMusic Box Theatre, Broadway[9][3][7][47]
1990Love LettersMelissa GardnerLos Angeles Production[48]
1995Sunset BoulevardNorma DesmondFord Centre, Toronto[5][9][3][7]
1999The Vagina MonologuesPerformerWestside Theatre, Off-Broadway
2004Bubbling Brown SugarPerformerTheater of the Stars, Atlanta[7]
2004On Golden PondEthelKennedy Center, Washington D.C.[47][49][50]
2007Both Sides NowPerformerFeinstein's at the Regency, New York[7]


Awards and nominations

Year Award Category Nominated work Result Ref.
1962Tony AwardBest Actress in a MusicalNo StringsWon[1][5][9][3][7][20]
1974Academy AwardBest ActressClaudineNominated[1][5][9][3][20]
1963Primetime Emmy AwardOutstanding Single Performance by an Actress in a Leading RoleNaked CityNominated[63][7][45]
1969Outstanding Actress in a Comedy SeriesJuliaNominated[63]
1989Outstanding Guest Actress in a Comedy SeriesA Different WorldNominated[7][45]
2008Outstanding Guest Actress in a Drama SeriesGrey's AnatomyNominated[45]
1999Daytime Emmy Awardfor Outstanding Performance in a Children's Special/SeriesThe Sweetest GiftNominated[45]
1968Golden Globe AwardsBest Female - TV StarJuliaWon
1969Best Actress in a Drama SeriesNominated[3][11]
1975Best Actress in a Comedy/Musical Motion PictureClaudineNominated[11]


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Further reading

  • Carroll, Diahann (2009). The Legs Are the Last to Go: Aging, Acting, Marrying, Mothering, and Other Things I Learned Along the Way. New York: HarperPaperbacks. ISBN 9780060763275.
  • Carroll, Diahann, with Ross Firestone (1987). Diahann: An Autobiography (1st Ivy Books ed.). New York: Ballantine Books. ISBN 0804101310.
  • Plowden, Martha Ward (2002). Famous Firsts of Black Women. Illustrated by Ronald Jones (2nd ed.). Gretna, LA: Pelican Pub. Co. ISBN 9781565541979.
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