R.I.P. Diahann Carroll, the groundbreaking star of Julia and Dynasty

The award-winning actress was 84.

Image: The Everett Collection

There are a handful of television shows that truly, boldly broke new ground in their depiction of the real-world. The Rifleman was the first show to center around a single father. The 1972-73 ABC sitcom The Corner Bar was the first series to feature a recurring LGBT character. Julia is one of those shows.

Premiering in the fall of 1968 on NBC, Julia starred Diahann Carroll as Julia Baker, a nurse and widowed mother raising her young son, Corey. Not only was Carroll playing a single mom in a sitcom, but she was also one of the first black women in a non-stereotypical role on television. Before, roles for women of color were generally relegated to servant parts, secondary characters and the like. But here was a working professional. The show was not without its critics — Gil Scott-Heron lumps Julia in the same line with Bullwinkle, the cartoon moose, in his immortal poem-song "The Revolution Will Not Be Televised" — but it mattered. Significantly.

With the talented Carroll in the lead, Julia lasted three seasons – just as long as Star Trek, Batman and Gilligan's Island.

Carroll was no stranger to television. She appeared on the small screen way back in 1954, singing "Why Was I Born?" from the musical Sweet Adeline on the talent showcase Chance of a Lifetime. The performance earned her the top prize of $1,000.

Her transition into musicals and theatre was natural. She made huge strides in the business, including landing a role in the 1959 film adaptation of Porgy and Bess (which dubbed her voice over with an opera singer). Her next step was even larger, landing the leading role in the 1962 stage production of No Strings, a part which earned her a Tony Award for best actress, the first ever given to a black woman.

Meanwhile, on television, she continued to land a couple of parts in noir shows Peter Gunn and Naked City

After Julia, in the Seventies, Carroll turned up a guest star in both The Love Boat and the infamous Star Wars Holiday Special. Her next major role came in 1984, when she vamped it up as the diva Dominique Deveraux on Dynasty. The character appeared in 74 episodes and crossed over the spin-off The Colbys.

Carroll continued to grace dramas in the 21 century, nabbed recurring roles on Grey's Anatomy and White Collar. Over the decades, she also continued to record albums and belt out tunes on Broadway.

On Friday, October 4, Carroll died in her home in Los Angeles, according to The Hollywood Reporter. She was 84.

Watch her performance on Peter Gunn in the episode "Sing a Song of Murder" below.

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Runeshaper 8 days ago
R.I.P It's extra cool that she was on both Peter Gunn & the Star Wars Holiday Special.
AnnaRentzVandenhazel 15 days ago
"Julia" was the first show with an African-American character which my parents allowed us to watch. (We were sent to bed and the TV was turned off when "The Bill Cosby Show" came on, I watched it years later via Netflix and saw nothing inappropriate, even for the early 70's). We were disappointed when it was cancelled after only 3 years. There was also a Barbie doll named Julia modeled after Diahann Carroll during that period, the talking version wore a sparkly gold and silver jumpsuit and the non-talking "twist waist" version wore a nurse's uniform - I never got a Julia doll but one of my friends did (btw neither of us were/are African-American, we weren't racist with our dolls).
Moonpie 16 days ago
So much class and elegance, she will be missed.
James 17 days ago
Getting old suxs but classic tv makes it barable.
ScarlettKaiju 17 days ago
It's hard not to laugh at the critics of Julia. Yes, she had an awesome wardrobe, huge apartment and a perfect, well behaved child. But her world was really no more sanitized - Perhaps it was even less so - than the ones where The Bradys, Lucy Carmichael and many of her sitcom peers resided. I had the opportunity to revisit it a few years back. The humor was more genteel than viewers at the time were used to, but it was very well written and acted with a great deal of heart.
ScarlettKaiju James 13 days ago
Julia Baker's world was certainly more perfect than the real one, but there were episodes dealing with the struggle of allowing Cory to be a "latch key" kid, and they did touch on the specter of discrimination. That's a little heavier than Lucy waiting up for Chris' date to drop her off or which Brady kid was going to be class president.
BettyJaneMaye 18 days ago
this beautiful and talented woman could not choose her race so to put her great contribution to breaking new ground for women of color in with some of the other so called ground breakers is doing a disservice to this great actress. as always one issue is pushed for agenda sake. rip Diahann Carroll
teire 18 days ago
My family watched Julia every week. Love her musical theater background — beautiful voice, beautiful lady.
ccsings 18 days ago
Rest in perfect peace, Madame Diahann Carroll. Such a great talent, with wonderful class and undeniable beauty. Job very well done!
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