Acclaimed actress Diahann Carroll died on Friday, October 4. She was 84.
Suzanne Kay, Carroll’s producer-journalist daughter, confirmed to The Associated Press that star died in Los Angeles after succumbing to a long battle with cancer. She was diagnosed with breast cancer in 1997, but had cleared the illness after undergoing surgery and radiation therapy.
After surviving breast cancer, she became an advocate for screening for early detection of the disease. “We all look forward to the day that mastectomies, chemotherapy and radiation are considered barbaric,” she said in 2000, according to CBS News.
“Diahann Carroll walked this earth for 84 years and broke ground with every footstep. An icon. One of the all-time greats,” Ava DuVernay tweeted on Friday. “She blazed trails through dense forests and elegantly left diamonds along the path for the rest of us to follow. Extraordinary life. Thank you, Ms. Carroll.”
Carroll, a Bronx-born talent who initially made a name for herself on Broadway, was a pioneer in the entertainment industry, and helped change the landscape for African American women. She made history as the star of NBC’s 1960s sitcom Julia, where she was the first black actress to lead a TV series.
She also became the first black actress to win a Tony award in 1962 for playing Barbara Woodruff in the musical No Strings.
“At that time, we didn’t talk about ‘Gee, I won this or I won that’ as much as they do today,” Carroll told Spectrum Health’s Health Beat in 2016. “It was more about doing the work than anything else. … This business is not about winning awards. Really, it’s about doing the work.”
Carroll, who received an Academy Award nomination for best actress for her performance in 1974’s Claudine, notably played Dominique Deveraux on the original Dynasty series. She’s appeared in major films, from Carmen Jones to Paris Blues, and many TV shows, including recent roles on White Collar and Grey’s Anatomy.
Carroll previously opened up about her fight with breast cancer, sharing her initial reaction to the diagnosis during a 2013 interview. “First, it doesn’t even phase you,” she said at the time. “You just [say], ‘Thank you for the information, doctor, and we’ll speak about this tomorrow.’ Because that’s the way I handle things.”
She continued, “The vanity was, I don’t want anyone to know. I don’t want that to be the thought of anyone, the first thing they think when they hear my name: ‘She has cancer, you know.’”