Diahann Carroll

Active - 1954 - 2017  |   Born - Jul 17, 1935 in Bronx, New York, United States  |   Died - Oct 4, 2019   |   Genres - Drama, Western

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Biography by Sandra Brennan

Over her long career, Diahann Carroll has distinguished herself as a singer and as an actress on screen, television, and the stage. The Bronx-born beauty started out at age ten when she received a scholarship from the Metropolitan Opera to enroll in New York's prestigious High School of Music and Art. While Carroll was a sociology major at New York University, she began modeling and then singing in nightclubs. This led to television performances, which in turn led her to Broadway in 1954, when she debuted in House of Flowers. That year she also made her film debut in Carmen Jones. In 1962, Carroll earned a Tony award for starring in the Broadway production of No Strings. She made her mark on television in 1968 when she was cast in the title role of the pioneering sitcom Julia, the first television series to star an African-American actress. The show was also innovative for portraying the travails of an intelligent, capable single mother (Julia's husband died in Vietnam) who juggles her career, home life, and romance. When it was first broadcast, the show's interracial themes generated some controversy, but largely due to the charming Carroll, the show became popular and ran until 1971. In 1974, Carroll received an Oscar nomination for Claudine. She was one of the stars of 1979's adaptation of I Know Why the Caged Bird Sings, and then was largely absent from movies and TV for ten years returning with a recurring part on the sitcom A Different World. In 1994 she was cast in the well-respected miniseries Lonesome Dove. She appeared in the underrated drama Eve's Baou, and was one of the leads in 1998's The Swetest Gift. In the 21st century she could be seen playing Sally Hemmings' mother in a biopic about Thomas Jefferson's lover, and she had an ongoing part in the hit ABC medical series Grey's Anatomy. In 2009 she was cast in the series White Collar.

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  • Worked as a model and nightclub singer as a teenager.
  • Dropped out of college in 1954 and made her Broadway (House of Flowers) and film (Carmen Jones) debuts that same year.
  • Began releasing albums in the late 1950s. 
  • Became the first black actress to win a Tony award for best actress (No Strings in 1962), star in a TV series (Julia in 1968) and host a variety show (The Diahann Carroll Show in 1976).
  • Portrayed Dominique Devereaux in Dynasty and its spin-off, The Colbys, in the 1980s. 
  • Starred as the iconic Norma Desmond in Andrew Lloyd Webber's musical version of Sunset Boulevard.
  • Launched a line of wigs, clothing and accessories in 1997.
  • Is a breast-cancer survivor. 
  • Played recurring character Jane Burke on Grey's Anatomy.
  • Released an autobiography (Diahann!) in 1986 and a memoir (The Legs Are the Last to Go: Aging, Acting, Marrying, and Other Things I Learned the Hard Way) in 2008.