(CNN)Diahann Carroll is gone today– passed away at 84 from breast cancer, her publicist said. But for me she will forever be that beautiful, chocolate-brown princess I first saw performing scenes–with her glistening voice–from “Porgy and Bess,” with Sammy Davis Jr. on the premiere episode of “The Diahann Carroll Show,” back in 1976.
To my young eyes—and to the eyes of so many of my peers–Diahann Carroll was everything that a woman should be: smart, elegant, funny, and a career woman. Carroll had already shattered racial stereotypes on television with her starring role in the 1968 series “Julia,” on NBC. She played a widowed mother and nurse — a life I connected with because my father had also died.
As Julia, Carroll was the first black woman to star in a sitcom and not play a domestic worker. Huge, at the time. In fact, it’s hard to overstate what an important figure she was. In my working-class black neighborhood, men, women, children–we were all captivated by her. I loved watching my mother — the only woman I ever thought was more beautiful than Carroll — imitate the actress’s hairdos and outfits.
In Diahann Carroll, we recognized our own beauty.
My love affair with Carrol continued throughout her career, the “Dynasty” years on ABC in the 80s, when she played the sexy vixen Dominique Deveraux, then later when she was cast as Jane Burke on “Grey’s Anatomy.”
A busy life, to be sure, and Carroll writes later in her memoir about the all-too-common struggles career moms confront as they try to balance work, love and family, and her regrets about the time away from her daughter, Suzanne Kay Bamford, from the first of her four marriages. The two reconnected later in her life, and Carroll often spoke about finding joy in her relationship with her daughter and grandchildren. I’m happy she finally found her balance.
In her book, written when she was just over 70, she recounted with humor and humility the challenges of aging for an icon—even one who remained drop-dead gorgeous.
“All my life people have been trying to make me define myself racially, politically, and artistically,” she said. “Now they are just trying to place my face.”
Rest easy, Diahann Carroll, you were a phenomenal, beautiful woman. We won’t forget.