Diahann Carroll
Publicity photo, 1976
Carol Diann Johnson

(1935-07-17)July 17, 1935
New York City, U.S.
DiedOctober 4, 2019(2019-10-04) (aged 84)
Los Angeles, California, U.S.
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)

Diahann Carroll (/dˈæn/ dy-AN; born Carol Diann Johnson; July 17, 1935 – October 4, 2019) was an American actress, singer, model, and activist. Before her death she was one of the last remaining stars from the Golden Age of Hollywood. 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.

Carroll rose to prominence in some of the earliest major studio films to feature black casts, including the classic movie musicals Carmen Jones (1954) and Porgy and Bess (1959). She received an Academy Award for Best Actress nomination for her title role in the romantic comedy-drama film Claudine (1974). Carroll's other notable film credits include Paris Blues (1961), The Split (1968), Eve's Bayou (1997), and Having Our Say: The Delany Sisters First 100 Years (1999).

She starred as the title role in Julia (1968-1971), for which she received a Golden Globe Award for Best TV Star – Female. The series was the first on American television to star a black woman in a non-stereotypical role.[1] She played the role of Dominique Deveraux, a mixed-race diva, in the prime time soap opera Dynasty from 1984 to 1987. She is also known for her roles in Naked City, A Different World, and Grey's Anatomy.

Carroll made her Broadway debut playing Ottilie Alias Violet in the musical House of Flowers (1954). She became the first African-American woman to win the Tony Award for Best Actress in a Musical for her role as Barbara Woodruff in the musical No Strings (1962).

Early years

Carroll, by Carl Van Vechten, 1955

Carol Diann Johnson was born in the Bronx, New York City, on July 17, 1935,[2] to John Johnson, a subway conductor, and Mabel (Faulk),[3] a nurse.[4][5]: 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.[6][5]: 152 [7] She attended Music and Art High School,[8][2][6] 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.[4][8] "She also began entering television contests, including Arthur Godfrey's Talent Scouts, under the name Diahann Carroll."[4][2][5]: 152  After graduating from high school, she attended New York University,[2] where she majored in sociology,[5]: 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."[4]


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.[4][6][5]: 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.[9]

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

Carroll's film debut was a supporting role in Carmen Jones (1954),[4][8][2] as a friend to the sultry lead character played by Dorothy Dandridge. That same year, she starred in the Broadway musical, House of Flowers.[4][2] 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.[4][8][2] 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)[4] and won the 1962 Tony Award for Best Actress in a Musical (the first time for a Black woman) for portraying Barbara Woodruff in the Samuel A. Taylor and Richard Rodgers musical No Strings.[1][4][8][2] 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][4][8][2] 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.[8] Sands died in September 1973, before the film's release in April 1974.[8]

U.S. President Ronald Reagan and First Lady Nancy Reagan with a group at NBC's taping of its "Christmas in Washington" special in the Pension Building in Washington, D.C. Left to right: NBC News anchor Roger Mudd, CBS News reporter Eric Sevareid, Dinah Shore, actress Diahann Carroll, actor and musician John Schneider, President Ronald Reagan, First Lady Nancy Reagan, actor Ben Vereen, and entertainer Debby Boone.

Carroll is known for her titular role in the television series Julia (1968–71),[4][2][5]: 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][8] That role won her the Golden Globe Award for Best TV Star – Female for its first year,[2][10] and a nomination for an Primetime Emmy Award in 1969.[2] 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,[4] Blake Carrington's half-sister.[8] 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.[8]

Carroll in 1979

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),[2] 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,[11] in which she voiced Queen La,[12] ruler of the ancient city of Opar.[13]

In 2006, Carroll appeared in several episodes of 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.[14] 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.[15]

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."[16]

Personal life

Carroll was married four times. Her father boycotted the ceremony for her first wedding [citation needed] in 1956, to record producer Monte Kay,[4][8] which was presided over by Adam Clayton Powell Jr. at the Abyssinian Baptist Church in Harlem. The marriage ended in 1962.[17] Carroll gave birth to her daughter, Suzanne Kay (born September 9, 1960), who became a journalist and screenwriter.[4][18][19]

In 1959, Carroll began a nine-year affair with the married actor Sidney Poitier.[4][6] 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.[20] 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.[21]

From left to right: Cass Elliot, Carroll and Jack Lemmon in 1973

Carroll dated and was engaged to British television host and producer David Frost from 1970 until 1973.[4][6] In February 1973, Carroll surprised the press by marrying Las Vegas boutique owner Fred Glusman.[4][8] 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.[6][22] Glusman was reportedly physically abusive.[23]

On May 25, 1975, Carroll, then aged 39, married Robert DeLeon, the 24-year-old managing editor of Jet magazine.[4][8] They met when DeLeon assigned himself to a cover story on Carroll about her 1975 Oscar nomination for Claudine.[24] 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.[24] Carroll was widowed when DeLeon was killed in a car crash on March 31, 1977.[6][25][26] Carroll's fourth and final marriage was to singer Vic Damone in 1987.[4][8] The union, which Carroll admitted was turbulent, had a legal separation in 1991, reconciliation, and divorce in 1996.[6][27][28]

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.[29]

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.[8][30] She died from cancer at her home in West Hollywood, California, on October 4, 2019, at the age of 84.[8][4] Carroll also suffered from 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 of late 2017.[31][32]



Year Title Role Notes
1954 Carmen Jones Myrt [2][4][8]
1959 Porgy and Bess Clara [2][4][8]
1961 Goodbye Again Night Club Singer [8]
Paris Blues Connie Lampson [8]
1967 Hurry Sundown Vivian Turlow [4][8][6]
1968 The Split Ellen "Ellie" Kennedy [4][8]
1974 Claudine Claudine [1][4][8][2]
1982 Sister, Sister Carolyne Lovejoy
1990 Mo' Better Blues Jazz Club Singer Uncredited
1991 The Five Heartbeats Eleanor Potter [6][11]
1992 Color Adjustment Herself [33][34]
1997 Eve's Bayou Elzora [11]
2013 Tyler Perry Presents Peeples Nana Peeples [35][36]
2016 The Masked Saint Ms. Edna (final film role)[11]


Year Title Role Notes Ref
1954 Chance of a Lifetime Herself Four consecutive weeks as a contestant [4][6]
The Red Skelton Hour Herself 1 episode [6]
1955 General Electric Theater Anna Episode: "Winner by Decision" [6]
1957–61 The Jack Paar Tonight Show Herself 28 episodes [6][5]: 152 
1957–68 The Ed Sullivan Show Herself 9 episodes [6]
1959–62 The Garry Moore Show Herself 8 episodes [37]: 173–177 
1960 Peter Gunn Dina Wright Episode: "Sing a Song of Murder" [6][5]: 152 
The Man in the Moon TV movie [6][11]
1962 What's My Line? Mystery Guest Episode: Diahann Carroll [6][38]
Naked City Ruby Jay Episode: "A Horse Has a Big Head!" [6][5]: 152 
1963 The Eleventh Hour Stella Young Episode: "And God Created Vanity" [6][5]: 152 [11]
1963–75 The Merv Griffin Show Herself 2 episodes [6]
1964 The Judy Garland Show Herself Episode 21 [6][5]: 152 
1964–69 The Hollywood Palace Herself 10 episodes [6]
1965 The Dean Martin Show Herself 1 episode (First Dean Martin Show)
1967–71 The Carol Burnett Show Herself 2 episodes [37]: 25, 31 
1968–71 Julia Julia Baker 86 episodes [4][2][1][8]
1972–86 The Dick Cavett Show Herself 3 episodes [39][40][41]
1972 The New Bill Cosby Show Herself 1 episode [42]
1975 Death Scream Betty May TV movie [6]
1976 The Diahann Carroll Show Herself 4 episodes [5]: 154 
1977 The Love Boat Roxy Blue Episode: "Isaac the Groupie" [6][11]
1977–78 Hollywood Squares Herself 11 episodes [6]
1978 Star Wars Holiday Special Mermeia Holographic TV special [6]
1979 Roots: The Next Generations Zeona Haley Episode: Part VI (1939-1950) [4][6][5]: 154 
I Know Why the Caged Bird Sings Vivian TV movie [4][6][5]: 154 
1982 Sister, Sister Carolyne Lovejoy TV movie [2][6][5]: 154 
1984–87 Dynasty Dominique Deveraux 74 episodes [2][19]
1985–86 The Colbys Dominique Deveraux 7 episodes [2][19]
1989 From the Dead of Night Maggie TV movie [6][5]: 156 
1989–93 A Different World Marion Gilbert 9 episodes [4][2]
1990 Murder in Black and White Margo Stover TV movie [6][5]: 156 
1991 Sunday in Paris Vernetta Chase TV short [6]
1993 The Sinbad Show Mrs. Winters Episode: "My Daughter's Keeper" [6]
1994 Burke's Law Grace Gibson Episode: "Who Killed the Beauty Queen?" [6]
Evening Shade Ginger Episode: "The Perfect Woman" [6]
1994–95 Lonesome Dove: The Series Ida Grayson 7 episodes [2][6]
1994 A Perry Mason Mystery:
The Case of the Lethal Lifestyle
Lydia Bishop TV movie [6]
1995 Touched by an Angel Grace Willis Episode: "The Driver" [6]
1998 The Sweetest Gift Mrs. Wilson TV movie [6]
1999 Having Our Say:
The Delany Sisters' First 100 Years
Sadie Delany TV movie [4][6][5]: 156 
Jackie's Back Herself TV movie [6]
Twice in a Lifetime Jael 2 episodes [6]
2000 The Courage to Love Pouponne TV movie [6]
Sally Hemings: An American Scandal Betty Hemings Miniseries [6][5]: 156 
Happily Ever After: Fairy Tales for Every Child Crow Episode: "Aesop's Fables: A Whodunit Musical" [43]
Livin' for Love: The Natalie Cole Story Maria Cole TV movie [6]
2001 The Legend of Tarzan Queen La Voice, 3 episodes [11][12]
2002 The Court Justice DeSett 6 episodes [6]
Half & Half Grandma Ruth Thorne Episode: "The Big Thanks for Forgiving Episode" [6]
2003 Strong Medicine Eve Morton Episode: "Love and Let Die" [6]
2003–04 Soul Food Aunt Ruthie 2 episodes [11][6]
2004 Whoopi Viveca Rae Episode: "Mother's Little Helper" [6]
2006–07 Grey's Anatomy Jane Burke 5 episodes [4][8][2][19]
2008 Back to You Sandra Jenkins Episode: "Hug & Tell" [6]
Over the River...Life of Lydia Maria Child,
Abolitionist for Freedom
Narrator Documentary [6][44]
2009–14 White Collar June Ellington 25 episodes [4][8][2][19]
2010 At Risk Nana Mary TV movie [45]
The Front Nana Evelyn TV movie [45]
Diahann Carroll:
The Lady. The Music. The Legend
Herself Filmed live in concert in Palm Springs, California [46]
2010–11 Diary of a Single Mom Jane Marco 7 episodes [2]


Year Title Role Venue Ref.
1954 House of Flowers Ottillie (alias Violet) Alvin Theatre, Broadway [6]
1962 No Strings Barbara Woodroff 54th Street Theatre, Broadway [6]
1977 Same Time, Next Year Doris Huntington Hartford Theatre [8]
1979 Black Broadway Performer Benefit concert
1983 Agnes of God Dr. Martha Livingstone Music Box Theatre, Broadway [8][2][6][47]
1990 Love Letters Melissa Gardner Los Angeles Production [48]
1995 Sunset Boulevard Norma Desmond Ford Centre, Toronto [4][8][2][6]
1999 The Vagina Monologues Performer Westside Theatre, Off-Broadway
2004 Bubbling Brown Sugar Performer Theater of the Stars, Atlanta [6]
On Golden Pond Ethel Kennedy Center, Washington D.C. [47][49][50]
2007 Both Sides Now Performer Feinstein's at the Regency, New York [6]


Awards and nominations

Year Award Category Nominated work Result Ref.
1974 Academy Awards Best Actress Claudine Nominated [1][4][8][2][19]
1963 Primetime Emmy Awards Outstanding Single Performance by an Actress in a Leading Role Naked City Nominated [63][6][45]
1969 Outstanding Continued Performance by an Actress in a Leading Role in a Comedy Series Julia Nominated [63]
1989 Outstanding Guest Actress in a Comedy Series A Different World Nominated [6][45]
2008 Outstanding Guest Actress in a Drama Series Grey's Anatomy Nominated [45]
1999 Daytime Emmy Awards Outstanding Performer in a Children's Special The Sweetest Gift Nominated [45]
1968 Golden Globe Awards Best TV Star – Female Julia Won [10]
1969 Best Actress in a Television Series – Musical or Comedy Nominated [2][10]
1974 Best Actress in a Motion Picture – Musical or Comedy Claudine Nominated [10]
1963 Grammy Awards Best Solo Vocal Performance, Female No Strings Nominated [64]
1966 Best Recording for Children Love Songs for Children: "A" You're Adorable Nominated
1962 Tony Awards Best Leading Actress in a Musical No Strings Won[a] [1][4][8][2][6][19]



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Further reading