Remembering the Legacy of TV Trailblazer Diahann Carroll

Diahann Carroll, a pioneering and Oscar-nominated actress who broke the color barrier in network television, died of cancer on Oct. 4 in Los Angeles. She was 84.

Carroll’s daughter, Suzanne Kay, released a statement praising her mother’s trailblazing work in entertainment.

“Carroll was a consummate entertainer and beloved icon whose career spanned nearly seven decades,” she said in a statement, according to NBC News. “She paved the way for many and never allowed anyone to limit or define her.”

Born Carol Diahann Johnson in the Bronx, New York, Johnson was an actress, singer, and model perhaps best known for her role in Julia, the first TV series to star a black woman in a non-servant role. In the series, which ran from 1968 to 1971 on NBC, Johnson played a widowed mother described as confident and self-sufficient.

“There was nothing like this young successful mother on the air,” Carroll once told PBS. “And we thought that it might be a very good stepping stone.”

The groundbreaking role earned her the Golden Globe Award for Best Actress In A Television Series in 1969.

Prior to that, Johnson rose to stardom in performances in some of the earliest major studio films to feature black actresses, including a supporting role opposite Dorothy Dandridge in Carmen Jones in 1954 and Porgy and Bess, starring Sidney Poitier, in 1959. In 1962, Carroll became the first black woman to win the Tony Award for best actress for her role in the Broadway musical No Strings. She was also nominated for an Academy Award for Best Actress for the 1974 film Claudine. Later, she played a multi-racial diva in the primetime soap opera Dynasty throughout the 1980s.

Carroll was inducted into the Television Academy Hall of Fame in 2011 in honor of her career that included four Emmy nominations for work in ABC’s Grey’s Anatomy and NBC’s A Different World.

Following the announcement of her passing, a number of celebrities expressed their sympathy on Twitter while honoring her legacy, including President Bill Clinton, filmmaker Ava DuVernay, actress Debbie Allen, and many more.

Johnson, who was married four times, is survived by her daughter, Kay, and two grandchildren.