Judith Light
Light in 2019
Judith Ellen Light

(1949-02-09) February 9, 1949 (age 75)
EducationDoane Academy
Alma materCarnegie Mellon University (BFA)
Years active1970–present
Known for
(m. 1985)

Judith Ellen Light (born February 9, 1949)[1] is an American actress. She made her professional stage debut in 1970, before making her Broadway debut in the 1975 revival of A Doll's House. Her breakthrough role was in the ABC daytime soap opera One Life to Live from 1977 to 1983, where she played the role of Karen Wolek; for this role, she won two consecutive Daytime Emmy Awards for Outstanding Lead Actress in a Drama Series in 1980 and 1981. In 2024, Light won the Primetime Emmy Award for Outstanding Guest Actress in a Comedy Series for Poker Face.

Light starred as Angela Bower in the long-running ABC sitcom Who's the Boss? from 1984 to 1992. Light played the recurring role of Elizabeth Donnelly in the NBC legal crime drama Law & Order: Special Victims Unit (2002–2010) and also played Claire Meade in the ABC comedy-drama Ugly Betty (2006–2010), for which she was nominated for a Primetime Emmy Award in 2007. From 2013 to 2014, she played the role of villainous Judith Brown Ryland in the TNT drama series, Dallas. In 2014, she began starring as Shelly Pfefferman in the critically acclaimed Amazon Studios dark comedy-drama series Transparent, for which she received several Golden Globe, Primetime Emmy, and Critics' Choice Award nominations. She again received Primetime Emmy and Critics' Choice Award nominations for playing Marilyn Miglin in The Assassination of Gianni Versace: American Crime Story in 2018. In 2019, she was awarded a star on the Hollywood Walk of Fame.

Light received her first nomination for a Tony Award in 2011, for her performance in the original Broadway play Lombardi. In 2012 and 2013, she won two consecutive Tony Awards for Best Featured Actress in a Play, for her performances in Other Desert Cities and The Assembled Parties. Light is a prominent LGBTQ+ and HIV/AIDS activist. Her advocacy work began in the early 1980s, in the early days of the HIV/AIDS epidemic.

Early life

Light was born to a Jewish family[2] in Trenton, New Jersey.[1] She is the daughter of Pearl Sue (née Hollander), a model, and Sidney Licht, an accountant. Light graduated from high school in 1966 at St. Mary's Hall–Doane Academy in Burlington, New Jersey. She graduated from Carnegie Mellon University with a degree in drama.[1] She recalled graduating with a class of 15 actors who were there all four years. She said "it was a really rigorous program and I thank God for it because it was an amazing training program."[3] She made her professional debut on stage in Richard III at the California Shakespeare Festival in 1970.


Early work and breakthrough

Light made her Broadway debut in A Doll's House in 1975.[1] She also starred in the 1976 Broadway play Herzl. Light also acted for such theatre companies as the Milwaukee Repertory Theater and the Seattle Repertory Theatre.[4] In the late 1970s, Light went through a real crisis after a period of not landing any parts.[3] Broke, she almost quit acting, because she felt that she was not contributing to the theater.[3]

Light at the Governor's Ball following the 1989 Annual Emmy Awards

In 1977, her agent phoned Light to have her audition for an understudy role in the ABC soap opera One Life to Live. Not wanting to be attached to a soap opera or a sitcom she initially rejected the idea, until she was told her daily salary would be $350.[3] At the audition she realized that "the format reaches a lot of people". She could "make a difference" and "make money" at the same time.[3] Instead of landing an understudy role, she was recast in the role of Karen Wolek, a role that had previously been portrayed by actresses Kathryn Breech and Julia Duffy. This role was quite lucrative for Light and spawned one of the show's most-remembered storylines; Light's character became an alcoholic prostitute after she became bored with her life as a housewife. On trial, Karen saved her friend Viki Lord Riley (Erika Slezak) from being convicted of killing Karen's pimp, Marco Dane (Gerald Anthony) by admitting to the entire town, including her faithful husband, Dr Larry Wolek (Michael Storm), that she had been a prostitute.

Light's portrayal of Karen brought the show critical acclaim and is credited with garnering One Life to Live ratings successes from the late 1970s into the early 1980s.[5][6] Light's dramatic, confessional courtroom performance of a housewife-turned-prostitute on the witness stand is regarded as one of the most memorable moments in television by TV Guide.[7] In 1980, this won Light her first Daytime Emmy Award for Outstanding Lead Actress in a Drama Series;[8] the scene in which she confessed her guilt in court is held in such high esteem that it is still used in acting classes.[citation needed] Light recalled: "I was scared before those courtroom scenes. I was afraid to put myself out that much. With the agony of pulling it out piece by piece and having the prosecutor stick the knife in her gut, I couldn't help but let everything spew out of her."[9] Light won another Daytime Emmy Award in the role in 1981.[10]

She appeared in an episode of St. Elsewhere in its first season, called "Dog Day Hospital", in which she played a housewife who became pregnant for the ninth time even though her husband claimed he had had a vasectomy. In an effort to punish the doctor who botched the job she took an operating room hostage though it was later revealed that her husband had not had the procedure.

Continued success and film expansion

After her success on daytime television, Light landed the leading role of assertive advertising executive Angela Bower on the ABC sitcom Who's the Boss?.[1] Co-starring Tony Danza, who played her housekeeper (and eventual boyfriend), the show ran for eight seasons from 1984 to 1992. The series was successful in the ratings, consistently ranked in the top ten in the final primetime ratings between the years of 1985 and 1989, and has since continued in syndication. TV Guide ranked Who's the Boss? as the 109th best sitcom of all time.[citation needed] Along with her work in Who's the Boss?, she starred in several television films, including Stamp of a Killer (1987) alongside Jimmy Smits; and the critically acclaimed biographical drama The Ryan White Story (1989), in which she played the mother of HIV/AIDS positive teenager Ryan White.

Light in 2007

Light appeared in Wife, Mother, Murderer (1991), in which she played Audrey Marie Hilley. After Who's the Boss?, Light starred in another ABC sitcom, Phenom, which ran for one season, 1993–94, before being canceled. In 1998 she starred in another short-lived sitcom, The Simple Life on CBS.[1] She spent most of the 1990s starring in made-for-TV and feature films including Men Don't Tell and 1997's Too Close to Home, which co-starred Ricky Schroder. In 1999, Light returned to the stage in the off-Broadway production of Pulitzer Prize-winning play Wit. She earned strong reviews for her portrayal of Vivian Bearing, a university professor battling ovarian cancer, and reprised the role for the national tour.[1][11] Light shaved her head for the role in the play.[12]

Light returned to television with the recurring role of Judge Elizabeth Donnelly in the NBC legal crime drama Law & Order: Special Victims Unit in 2002.[13] She appeared in 25 episodes of the series from 2002 to 2010. In 2004 she starred in another short-lived CBS sitcom, The Stones.[14] In 2006, Light joined the cast of the ABC comedy-drama series Ugly Betty as Claire Meade, the mother of Alexis and Daniel. She was a recurring guest-star during the first season and was promoted to series regular as of the second. Light appeared in the show until the series finale in 2010. She was nominated for the Primetime Emmy Award for Outstanding Guest Actress in a Comedy Series in 2007, and for the Screen Actors Guild Award for Outstanding Performance by an Ensemble in a Comedy Series in 2008, for her performance in show.[4]

Light appeared in a number of films in the 2000s. She co-starred opposite Chris Messina and Jennifer Westfeldt in the 2006 romantic comedy film Ira & Abby. In 2007, Light starred as a radical Christian woman in the independent film Save Me.[15] Light's character, Gayle, runs a Christian ministry known as Genesis House, which works to help gay men recover from their 'affliction.' She is challenged by the arrival of Mark, an ill gay man who reminds Gayle of her dead, homosexual son, and the movie chronicles the challenges of the two as they learn to accept each other as they are.

Acclaim in theater and return to television

The New York Times said in 1999 of Light's lead performance in the Broadway play Wit, "It is the sort of transformational work that would hint at other future successes, with Shakespeare, maybe, if a full-time career in the theater were truly an option these days. In any event, it gives rise to a wish. Ms. Light, don't touch that dial again, at least not for a while."[16] Nevertheless, it would be another decade before Light returned to a major theatrical role on Broadway. From 2010 to 2011, Light appeared on Broadway as witty alcoholic Marie Lombardi in the play Lombardi, for which she received a nomination for the Tony Award, for Best Performance by an Actress in a Featured Role in a Play.[17] Another role on Broadway followed, as Silda Grauman in Other Desert Cities from 2011 to 2012, which garnered Light her first Tony Award for Featured Actress in a Play and the 2012 Drama Desk Award for Outstanding Featured Actress in a Play.[18][19] Light also starred in two television pilots, ABC's sitcom Other People's Kids and USA Network's drama Eden, both in 2011 and neither of which were green-lit to continue.[20][21]

Judith Light accepting her 2012 Drama Desk Award at The Town Hall in New York City

Light appeared on Broadway as Faye in the 2013 play, The Assembled Parties, and won her second Tony Award for Featured Actress in a Play for her performance.[22] In the same year, she joined the cast of TNT's continuation of the television series Dallas, in the role of Judith Brown Ryland, villainous mother of Harris Ryland (despite being only three years older than Mitch Pileggi who plays her TV son).[23][24] She received positive reviews for her recurring role in Dallas, with Entertainment Weekly naming her the "scene-stealer" of the series.[25]

In 2014, she was cast opposite Jeffrey Tambor in the critically acclaimed Amazon Studios dark comedy-drama series, Transparent created by Jill Soloway. She plays Shelly Pfefferman, ex-wife of the transgender character played by Tambor.[26][27] The pilot episode debuted on February 6, 2014, and later episodes premiered on September 26, 2014.[28] Light received Critics' Choice Television Award for Best Supporting Actress in a Comedy Series and Golden Globe Award for Best Supporting Actress – Series, Miniseries or Television Film nominations for her performance.[29][30]

Light appeared opposite Patricia Clarkson in the 2014 rom-com, Last Weekend, and as the mother of Melanie Lynskey's character in a comedy-drama film, We'll Never Have Paris, the same year.[31][32] She returned to Broadway in 2015 as Madame Raquin in Helen Edmundson's adaptation of Thérèse Raquin, starring opposite Keira Knightley and Matt Ryan.[33] In 2017, Light was featured in the American Theatre Wing's Working in the Theatre series on solo performance.[34]

Light received critical acclaim for her portrayal of Marilyn Miglin in 2018's The Assassination of Gianni Versace: American Crime Story, a mini-series on FX, culminating in a Primetime Emmy nomination for Outstanding Supporting Actress in a Limited Series or Movie.[35][36] In 2019, Light guest-starred in the Netflix series, The Politician.[37] Together with Bette Midler, she joined the main cast of the series for the second season, which premiered in June 2020.[38] She received a star on the Hollywood Walk of Fame on September 12, 2019.[39]

In 2021, Light played Rosa Stevens in the biographical musical drama film Tick, Tick... Boom! directed by Lin-Manuel Miranda. She later starred in the comedy-thriller The Menu.[40] She also was cast in the comedy-drama Down Low,[41] and comedy-drama The Young Wife starring Kiersey Clemons.[42] On television, Light played Courteney Cox's mother in the Starz horror comedy series Shining Vale,[43] and Blanche Knopf in the HBO Max series Julia, both having premiered in 2022.[44]

Personal life

Light has been married to television actor Robert Desiderio since 1985.[45] In 2010, the couple became bicoastal: she lives primarily in New York City, and he resides primarily in Southern California. She has a home in Beverly Hills, California and a home in Aspen, Colorado. She is Jewish and considers herself religious, without being attached to institutional religion.[46] She has practiced Kundalini yoga for 20 years.[47]


After being inspired by the LGBTQ+ community, Light began advocating for people diagnosed with HIV/AIDS in the early 1980s. She was one of the first celebrities to advocate against the social stigma encountered by LGBTQ+ people and those with AIDS.[48] She has served on the boards of the Matthew Shepard Foundation and the Point Foundation, a support organization for students discriminated against based on sexual orientation or gender.[49]

Through her role in Transparent as the ex-wife of a transgender person, Light raises these issues to a broad audience. She reported "It's something that we really haven't talked about before in pop culture, we haven't talked about transgender issues, we haven't talked about mature people's sexuality."[50]

In an interview with the magazine Out, Light stated:

“It was the LGBTQ community that inspired me to be the kind of person I wanted to be. I wanted to be authentic and courageous, and for so long I wasn't. When I began doing a lot of advocacy work in the early '80s for HIV and AIDS, I saw the community and the way the community was operating against all odds, against a world and a culture and country that gave them nothing and denigrated them. ... I looked at this community and said, 'This is breathtaking. This is the kind of world and people I want to be around. These are the kind of people I want to be working with."[51]

In 2018, Light discussed the similarities between the beginnings of the LGBT rights movement and the Me Too movement.[52]

In addition to LGBT and AIDS activism, she has spoken publicly to encourage vaccination against the flu as a way to protect vulnerable populations.[53]



Year Title Role Notes
1978 Rush It Catherine's Friend
1996 Paul Monette: The Brink of Summer's End Herself
A Step Toward Tomorrow Anna Lerner
2000 Joseph: King of Dreams Zuleika Voice[54]
2005 Ira & Abby Arlene Black
2006 A Broken Sole Hilary
2007 Save Me Gayle Also producer
2012 Rhymes with Banana Herself
Scrooge & Marley The Narrator
2014 Last Weekend Veronika Goss
2015 We'll Never Have Paris Jean
Digging for Fire Grandma
2018 Ms. White Light[55] Val
Hot Air Judith Montefiore-Salters
2019 Before You Know It Sherrell Ghearhardt
2021 The Same Storm Shirlee Salt
Tick, Tick... Boom! Rosa Stevens
2022 The Menu Anne Liebbrandt
2023 Down Low Sandy
The Young Wife Cookie
2024 Out of My Mind Mrs. V. Post-production

Television films

Year Title Role Notes
1983 Intimate Agony Marsha
1987 Stamp of a Killer Cathy Proctor
1989 The Ryan White Story Jeanne White
My Boyfriend's Back Vickie Vine
1990 In Defense of a Married Man Laura Simmons
1991 Wife, Mother, Murderer Marie Hilley/Robbi/Teri
1993 Men Don't Tell Laura MacAffrey
1994 Betrayal of Trust Barbara Noël
Against Their Will: Women in Prison Alice Needham
1995 Lady Killer Janice Mitchell
1996 A Strange Affair Lisa McKeever Also co-executive producer
Murder at My Door Irene McNair
1997 Too Close to Home Diana Donahue
1998 Carriers Maj. Carmen Travis
2019 Escaping the Madhouse: The Nellie Bly Story Matron Grady

Television series

Year Title Role Notes
1977 Kojak Laetitia Palmerance Episode: "Monkey on a String"
1977–83 One Life to Live Karen Wolek Lead role on daily soap opera
1983 St. Elsewhere Barbara Lonnicker Episode: "Dog Day Hospital"
Family Ties Stacey Hughes Episode: "Not an Affair to Remember"
1984 The Mississippi Episode: "Home Again"
Remington Steele Clarissa Custer Episode: "Dreams of Steele"
You Are the Jury Elizabeth Harding Episode: "The Case of the People of Florida vs. Joseph Landrum"
1984–92 Who's the Boss? Angela Bower 196 episodes
1986 Charmed Lives Angela Bower Episode: "Pilot"
1993–94 Phenom Dianne Doolan 22 episodes
1996–97 Duckman Ursula Bacon "Honey" Chicken 3 episodes
1997 Cow and Chicken Nurse Voice, episode: "Space Cow/The Legend of Sailcat"[54]
1998 The Simple Life Sara Campbell 7 episodes
2001 Born In Brooklyn Catherine ABC pilot
2002 Spin City Christine Episode: "O Mother, Where Art Thou?"
2002–10 Law & Order: Special Victims Unit Elizabeth Donnelly 25 episodes
2004 The Stones Barbara Stone 9 episodes
2005 Sold Nancy ABC pilot
2006 Family Guy Herself Voice, episode: "The Griffin Family History"
Twenty Good Years Gina 3 episodes
2006–10 Ugly Betty Claire Meade 55 episodes
2011 Nurse Jackie Maureen Cooper Episode: "Rat Falls"
Other People's Kids Laura ABC pilot
Eden Olivia Sparks USA pilot
2012–15 The Exes Marjorie 3 episodes
2013–14 Dallas Judith Brown Ryland 18 episodes
2014 Raising Hope Louise Episode: "Dinner with Tropes"
Submissions Only Sharon Duvall Episode: "Reason to Stay"
The Winklers Tita Winkler ABC pilot
2014–19 Transparent Shelly Pfefferman 32 episodes
2017 Doubt Carolyn Rice 8 episodes
I'm Sorry Judy Episode: "Pilot"
Penn Zero: Part-Time Hero Mrs. Wright Voice, episode: "My Mischievous Son"[54]
2018 The Assassination of Gianni Versace: American Crime Story Marilyn Miglin 2 episodes
The Good Fight Deidre Quinn Episode: "Day 492"
2018–19 Queen America Regina 3 episodes
2019–20 The Politician Dede Standish 8 episodes
2020 Manhunt: Deadly Games Bobi Jewell 7 episodes
2021 Impeachment: American Crime Story Susan Carpenter-McMillan 5 episodes
2022 American Horror Stories Virginia Mallow Episode: "Facelift"
2022–23 Shining Vale Joan 6 episodes
Julia Blanche Knopf 9 episodes
2023 Poker Face Irene Smothers Episode: "Time of the Monkey"
2024 Kite Man: Hell Yeah! Helen Villigan Voice[56]
TBA Before Lynn Upcoming series


Year Title Role Notes
1975 A Doll's House Helene Vivian Beaumont Theater
1976 Measure for Measure Francisca Delacorte Theater
Herzl Julie Herzl Palace Theatre
1999–2000 Wit Vivian Bearing Union Square Theatre
2001 Hedda Gabler Hedda Gabler Shakespeare Theatre Company
2002 Sorrows and Rejoicings Allison Olivier Second Stage Theatre
2005 Colder Than Here Myra Lucille Lortel Theatre
2010–11 Lombardi Marie Lombardi Circle in the Square Theatre
2011–12 Other Desert Cities Silda Grauman Booth Theatre
2013 The Assembled Parties Faye Samuel J. Friedman Theatre
2015 Thérèse Raquin Madame Raquin Roundabout Theater at Studio 54
2016 All The Ways To Say I Love You Faye MCC Theater
2017 God Looked Away Estelle Pasadena Playhouse

Awards and nominations

Film and television

Year Award Category Work Result
1979 Soapy Award Outstanding Actress One Life to Live Won
1980 Daytime Emmy Award Outstanding Lead Actress in a Drama Series Won
Soapy Award Outstanding Actress Won
1981 Daytime Emmy Award Outstanding Lead Actress in a Drama Series Won
1998 GLAAD Media Award Vision Award Honouree
2007 Primetime Emmy Award Outstanding Guest Actress in a Comedy Series Ugly Betty Nominated
Prism Award Best Performance in a Comedy Series Won
Gold Derby Awards Comedy Guest Actress Nominated
Ensemble of the Year Nominated
TV Land Award Favorite Working Mom Who's the Boss? Nominated
2008 Screen Actors Guild Award Outstanding Performance by an Ensemble in a Comedy Series Ugly Betty Nominated
TV Land Award Mad Ad Man (or Woman) of the Year Who's the Boss? Nominated
2015 Critics' Choice Television Award Best Supporting Actress in a Comedy Series Transparent Nominated
2016 Golden Globe Award Best Supporting Actress – Series, Miniseries or Television Film Nominated
Primetime Emmy Award Outstanding Supporting Actress in a Comedy Series Nominated
Screen Actors Guild Award Outstanding Performance by an Ensemble in a Comedy Series Nominated
Critics' Choice Television Award Best Supporting Actress in a Comedy Series Nominated
Gold Derby Awards Comedy Supporting Actress Nominated
Gotham Award Made in New York Award Honouree
2017 Primetime Emmy Award Outstanding Supporting Actress in a Comedy Series Transparent Nominated
Gold Derby Awards Comedy Supporting Actress Nominated
2018 Primetime Emmy Award Outstanding Supporting Actress in a Limited Series or Movie The Assassination of Gianni Versace: American Crime Story Nominated
Gold Derby Awards Movie/Limited Series Supporting Actress Won
Ensemble of the Year Nominated
2019 Critics' Choice Television Award Best Supporting Actress in a Movie/Miniseries Nominated
Provincetown International Film Festival Excellence in Acting Award Honouree
2020 Women's Image Network Awards Outstanding Actress Made for Television Movie / Mini-Series Escaping the Madhouse: The Nellie Bly Story Nominated
GLAAD Media Award Excellence in Media Award Honouree
2023 Primetime Emmy Award Outstanding Guest Actress in a Comedy Series Poker Face Won


Year Award Category Work Result
2011 Tony Award Best Featured Actress in a Play Lombardi Nominated
Drama Desk Award Outstanding Featured Actress in a Play Nominated
Outer Critics Circle Award Outstanding Actress in a Play Nominated
2012 Tony Award Best Featured Actress in a Play Other Desert Cities Won
Drama Desk Award Outstanding Featured Actress in a Play Won
Outer Critics Circle Award Outstanding Featured Actress in a Play Nominated
2013 Tony Award Best Featured Actress in a Play The Assembled Parties Won
Drama Desk Award Outstanding Featured Actress in a Play Won
Outer Critics Circle Award Outstanding Featured Actress in a Play Nominated
2016 Drama League Award Distinguished Performance Thérèse Raquin Nominated
Outer Critics Circle Award Outstanding Featured Actress in a Play Won
2017 Drama League Award Distinguished Performance All The Ways To Say I Love You Nominated
Outer Critics Circle Award Outstanding Solo Performance Nominated
2019 Tony Award Isabelle Stevenson Award "Advocacy for LGBTQ+ rights and the fight against HIV/AIDS." Honouree


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