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Diahann Carroll, groundbreaking 'Julia' actress, dead at 84

Carroll was the star of "Julia," which ran for 86 episodes on NBC from 1968 to 1971.
/ Source: NBC News

Oscar-nominated actress Diahann Carroll, who broke network television's color line, died on Friday after a bout with cancer, her daughter said.

She was 84.

"Carroll was a consummate entertainer and beloved icon whose career spanned nearly seven decades," said her daughter, Suzanne Kay, in a statement. "She paved the way for many and never allowed anyone to limit or define her."

Carroll was the star of "Julia," which ran for 86 episodes on NBC between 1968 and 1971. She played a nurse named Julia Baker who was raising a young son on her own following the death of her serviceman husband in the Vietnam War.

It was a groundbreaking show, marking the first time an African American was cast as the star of a show in a non-servant role.

"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."

It was such a new concept, an African American actor as the show's star, that the studio's makeup department at first did not have any cosmetics for black women.

"The studio had only dealt with the little American girls or European girls — all the same color," Carroll recalled. "How could you have a makeup department and you don't have makeup for every skin in the United States of America?"

Diahann Carroll on "Dynasty"
Carroll starred in the TV drama "Dynasty" in the mid-1980s.ABC Photo Archives / Getty Images

She won a Tony Award in 1962 for best actress in a musical, for "No Strings."

Carroll was nominated for the 1974 Oscar for best actress for her work in "Claudine." The top honor that year went to Ellen Burstyn for "Alice Doesn't Live Here Anymore."

She's survived by her daughter Kay and grandchildren, August and Sydney.