Diahann Carroll

Diahann Carroll (/dˈæn/; born Carol Diann Johnson; July 17, 1935 – October 4, 2019)[2] 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, a first for a Black woman, for her role in the Broadway musical No Strings.

Diahann Carroll
Carroll in 1976
Carol Diahann Johnson

(1935-07-17)July 17, 1935
DiedOctober 4, 2019(2019-10-04) (aged 84)
EducationMusic & Art High School
Alma materNew York University
Years active1950–2015
Home townHarlem, New York, U.S.[1][2]
  • Monte Kay
    (m. 1956; div. 1963)
  • Fred Glusman
    (m. 1973; div. 1973)
  • Robert DeLeon
    (m. 1975; died 1977)
  • Vic Damone
    (m. 1987; div. 1996)
Partner(s)Sidney Poitier
David Frost
Awards1969 Golden Globe Award for Best TV Star Julia

Her 1968 debut in Julia, the first series on American television to star a Black woman in a non-stereotypical role,[3] 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 the Golden Globe Award for Best Actress In a Television Series in 1968. She received an Academy Award for Best Actress nomination for the film Claudine (1974). She was also a breast cancer survivor and activist.

Early years

Carroll, by Carl Van Vechten, 1955

Carol Diahann Johnson was born in the Bronx, New York City, on July 17, 1935,[4] to John Johnson, a subway conductor, and Mabel (Faulk),[5] a nurse.[6][7]:152 While Carroll was still an infant, the family moved to Harlem, where she grew up.[8][7]:152 She attended Music and Art High School,[9][4][8] 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.[6][9] "She also began entering television contests, including Arthur Godfrey's Talent Scouts, under the name Diahann Carroll."[6][4][7]:152 After graduating from high school, she attended New York University,[4] where she majored in sociology,[7]: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."[6]


Carroll's big break came at age 18, when she appeared as a contestant on the DuMont Television Network program, Chance of a Lifetime, hosted by Dennis James.[6][8][7]: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),[6][9][4] as a friend to the sultry lead character played by Dorothy Dandridge. That same year, she starred in the Broadway musical, House of Flowers.[6][4] 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.[6][9][4] 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)[6] 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.[3][6][9][4] 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),[3][6][9][4] 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, 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),[6][4][7]:141–151 which made her the first African-American actress to star in her own television series who did not play a domestic worker.[3][9] That role won her the Golden Globe Award for "Best Actress In A Television Series" for its year,[4][11] and a nomination for an Emmy Award in 1969.[4] 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 as the mixed-race jet set diva Dominique Deveraux,[6] 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 until 1987, simultaneously making several appearances on its short-lived spin-off, The Colbys. She received her third Emmy nomination in 1989 for the recurring role of Marion Gilbert in A Different World.[9]

Carroll portrayed Eleanor Potter, the doting, concerned, and protective wife of Jimmy Potter (portrayed by Chuck Patterson), in The Five Heartbeats (1991),[4] a musical drama film also featuring actor and musician Robert Townsend, and Michael Wright. In a 1995 reunion with Billy Dee Williams in Lonesome Dove: The Series, she played Mrs. Greyson, the wife of Williams' character. In 1996, 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 début in The Legend of Tarzan,[12] in which she voiced Queen La,[13] ruler of the ancient city of Opar.[14]

Carroll appeared in the television medical drama Grey's Anatomy (2006) as Jane Burke, the demanding mother of Dr. Preston Burke. From December 2008, she appeared in USA Network's series White Collar as 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 she 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 for 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] Washington erroneously stated that Carroll was the first Black performer ever to be nominated for an Emmy. In fact, at least three Black performers were nominated before Carroll (Ethel Waters for a guest appearance on Route 66, in 1962; Harry Belafonte, who was nominated in 1956 and 1961, and won in 1960; and Sammy Davis Jr., who was nominated in 1956 with Belafonte), who was first nominated in 1963.[18]

Personal life

Carroll was married four times. Her father boycotted the ceremony for her first wedding, to record producer Monte Kay in 1956,[6][9] which was presided over by Adam Clayton Powell Jr. at the Abyssinian Baptist Church in Harlem. The marriage ended in 1962.[19] The union produced a daughter, Suzanne Kay Bamford (born September 9, 1960), who became a journalist and screenwriter.[6][20][21]

In 1959, Carroll began a nine-year affair with the married actor Sidney Poitier.[6][8] She said Poitier persuaded her to divorce her husband and said he would leave his wife to be with her. When Carroll got her divorce, Poitier did not keep up his end of the bargain.[22] Eventually he divorced his wife. According to Poitier, their relationship ended because he requested 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.[23]

Carroll dated and was engaged to British television host and producer David Frost from 1970 until 1973.[6][8] In 1973, Carroll surprised the press by marrying Las Vegas boutique owner Fred Glusman.[6][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.[8][24] Glusman was reportedly physically abusive.[25]

On May 25, 1975, Carroll then age 39, married Robert DeLeon, a 24-year old managing editor of Jet magazine.[6][9] They met when DeLeon assigned himself to a cover story on Carroll about her 1975 Oscar nomination for Claudine.[26] 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.[26] Carroll was widowed two years later when DeLeon was killed in a car crash.[8][27][28] Carroll's fourth marriage was to singer Vic Damone in 1987.[6][9] The union, which Carroll admitted was turbulent, had a legal separation in 1991, reconciliation, and divorce in 1996.[8][29][30]

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.[31]

Illness and death

Carroll was diagnosed with breast cancer in 1997.[32] 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 since. She frequently spoke of the need for early detection and prevention of the disease.[9][33] She died on October 4, 2019, in Los Angeles, aged 84.[3][9][32]



Year Title Role
1954Carmen JonesMyrt[4][6][9]
1959Porgy and BessClara[4][6][9]
1961Goodbye AgainNight Club Singer[9]
Paris BluesConnie Lampson[9]
1967Hurry SundownVivian Turlow[6][9][8]
1968The SplitEllen "Ellie" Kennedy[6][9]
1991The Five HeartbeatsEleanor Potter[8][12]
1992Color AdjustmentHerself[34][35]
1997Eve's BayouElzora[12]
2008Over the River...Life of Lydia Maria Child, Abolitionist for FreedomNarrator[8][36]
2013Tyler Perry Presents PeeplesNana Peeples[37][38]
2015The Masked SaintMs. Edna[12]


Year Title Role Notes
1954Chance of a LifetimeHerselfFour consecutive weeks as a contestant[6][8]
1954The Red Skelton HourHerself1 episode[8]
1955General Electric TheaterAnnaEpisode: "Winner by Decision"[8]
1957–1961The Jack Paar Tonight ShowHerself28 episodes[8][7]:152
1957–1968The Ed Sullivan ShowHerself9 episodes[8]
1959–1962The Garry Moore ShowHerself8 episodes[39]:173–177
1960Peter GunnDina WrightEpisode: "Sing a Song of Murder"[8][7]:152
1960The Man in the MoonTV movie[8][12]
1962What's My Line?Mystery Guest[8][40]
1962Naked CityRuby JayEpisode: "A Horse Has a Big Head – Let Him Worry!"[8][7]:152
1963The Eleventh HourStella YoungEpisode: "And God Created Vanity"[8][7]:152[12]
1963–1975The Merv Griffin ShowHerself2 episodes[8]
1964The Judy Garland ShowHerselfEpisode 21[8][7]:152
1964–1967The Danny Kaye ShowHerself6 episodes[7]:152[39]:156–161
1964–1969The Hollywood PalaceHerself10 episodes[8]
1965–1971The Dean Martin ShowHerself5 episodes[8]
1966–1978The Mike Douglas ShowHerself12 episodes[8]
1967–1971The Carol Burnett ShowHerself2 episodes[39]:25,31
1968Francis Albert Sinatra Does His ThingHerself[8]
1968–1971JuliaJulia Baker86 episodes[6][4][3][9]
1969The Joey Bishop ShowHerself1 episode[41]
1972, 1986The Dick Cavett ShowHerself3 episodes[42][43][44]
1972The New Bill Cosby ShowHerself1 episode[45]
1975Death ScreamBetty MayTV movie[8]
1976The Diahann Carroll ShowHerself4 episodes[7]:154
1977The Love BoatRoxy BlueEpisode: "Isaac the Groupie"[8][12]
1977–1978Hollywood SquaresHerself11 episodes[8]
1978Star Wars Holiday SpecialMermeia Holographic Wow[8]
1979Roots: The Next GenerationsZeona Haley[6][8][7]:154
1979I Know Why the Caged Bird SingsVivianTV movie[6][8][7]:154
1982Sister, SisterCarolyne LovejoyTV movie[4][8][7]:154
1984–1987DynastyDominique Deveraux74 episodes[4][21]
1985–1986The ColbysDominique Deveraux7 episodes[4][21]
1989From the Dead of NightMaggie[8][7]:156
1989–1993A Different WorldMarion Gilbert9 episodes[6][4]
1990Murder in Black and WhiteMargo Stover[8][7]:156
1991Sunday in ParisVernetta Chase[8]
1993The Sinbad ShowMrs. WintersEpisode: "My Daughter's Keeper"[8]
1994Burke's LawGrace GibsonEpisode: "Who Killed the Beauty Queen?"[8]
1994Evening ShadeGingerEpisode: "The Perfect Woman"[8]
1994–1995Lonesome Dove: The SeriesIda Grayson7 episodes[4][8]
1994A Perry Mason Mystery: The Case of the Lethal LifestyleLydia Bishop[8]
1995Touched by an AngelGrace WillisEpisode: "The Driver"[8]
1998The Sweetest GiftMrs. Wilson[8]
1999Having Our Say: The Delany Sisters' First 100 YearsSadie DelanyTV movie[6][8][7]:156
1999Jackie's BackHerselfTV movie[8]
1999Twice in a LifetimeJael2 episodes[8]
2000The Courage to LovePouponneTV movie[8]
2000Sally Hemings: An American ScandalBetty HemingsMiniseries[8][7]:156
2000Happily Ever After: Fairy Tales for Every ChildCrowEpisode: "Aesop's Fables: A Whodunit Musical"[46]
2000Livin' for Love: The Natalie Cole StoryMaria ColeTV movie[8]
2001The Legend of TarzanQueen La (voice)3 episodes[12][13]
2002The CourtJustice DeSett6 episodes[8]
2002Half & HalfGrandma Ruth ThorneEpisode: "The Big Thanks for Forgiving Episode"[8]
2003Strong MedicineEve MortonEpisode: "Love and Let Die"[8]
2003–2004Soul FoodAunt Ruthie2 episodes[12][8]
2004WhoopiViveca RaeEpisode: "Mother's Little Helper"[8]
2006–2007Grey's AnatomyJane Burke5 episodes[6][9][4][21]
2008Back to YouSandra JenkinsEpisode: "Hug & Tell"[8]
2009–2014White CollarJune Ellington25 episodes[6][9][4][21]
2010At RiskNanaTV movie[47]
2010The FrontNanaTV movie[47]
2010Diahann Carroll: The Lady. The Music. The LegendHerselfFilmed live in concert in Palm Springs, California[48]
2010–2011Diary of a Single MomTherapist7 episodes[4]



Awards and nominations

  • 1963: Primetime Emmy Award for Outstanding Single Performance by an Actress in a Leading Role Naked City[18][8][47]
  • 1969: Primetime Emmy Award for Outstanding Actress in a Comedy Series Julia[18]
  • 1970: Golden Globe Award for Best Actress in a Comedy/Musical Television Series Julia [11]
  • 1975: Golden Globe Award for Best Actress in a Comedy/Musical Motion Picture Claudine [11]
  • 1975: Academy Award for Best Actress Claudine[3][6][9][4][21]
  • 1989: Primetime Emmy Award for Outstanding Guest Actress in a Comedy Series A Different World[8][47]
  • 1992: Women in Film Crystal Award.[66]
  • 1998: Women in Film Lucy Award[66]
  • 1999: Daytime Emmy Award for Outstanding Performance in a Children's Special/Series The Sweetest Gift[47]
  • 2000: NAACP Image Award for Outstanding Actress in a Mini-Series/Television Movie Having Our Say: The Delany Sisters' First 100 Years[65]
  • 2005: NAACP Image Award for Outstanding Supporting Actress in a Television Drama Series Soul Food[65]
  • 2008: Primetime Emmy Award for Outstanding Guest Actress in a Drama Series Grey's Anatomy[47]


  1. New York Times - AN APPRAISAL - Diahann Carroll, Indelible Fixture of My Childhood - Ms. Carroll was part of my extended family, that fabulous aunt who commanded attention by simply walking into the room, by Pierre-Antoine Louis. October 6, 2019
  2. NBC News – Diahann Carroll, first Black woman to star in nonservant role in TV series, dies at 84 – Carroll was the star of "Julia," which ran for 86 episodes on NBC from 1968 to 1971. By David K. Li and Diana Dasrath, October 4, 2019
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  25. Iley, Chrissy (November 5, 2008). "'I'm ambitious, dedicated and vain'". The Guardian. ISSN 0261-3077.
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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.
  • Firestone, Diahann Carroll with Ross (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.