Diahann Carroll is one of our most treasured actresses and performers in the world.
Her career spans six decades of breakthrough and incredibly fierce roles in movies, TV and on Broadway! Who can forget Carroll as Whitley’s mother on ‘A Different World’? But her career is so much bigger than that!
Carroll got her big break in the 1960s television series ‘Julia’—which was the first series on American television to star a Black woman in a non-stereotypical role, paving the way for today’s dramas such as ‘Scandal’ and ‘Being Mary Jane.’
The legendary actress is lauded for more than just how she transforms into memorable characters, but also for her timeless and iconic beauty and regality.
To celebrate Carroll’s 80th birthday today, here are seven facts you may or may not have ever known about the Hollywood diva!
1. She grew up with Billy Dee Williams!
Carroll was born in the Bronx and when she was an infant, her family moved to Harlem. She attended Music & Art High School, which is where she was classmates with legendary actor Billy Dee Williams!
2. She started modeling for Ebony magazine at 15.
Carroll often speaks about her parents’ support and enrolling her in dance, singing and modeling classes. With a tall and lean build, she was able to model for Ebony while still in high school.
3. She made her first appearance on the game show “Chance of a Lifetime”!
Carroll’s big break came at 18 when she was a contestant on the show “Chance of a Lifetime” and won the $1,000 prize for her performance of the Jerome Kern/Oscar Hammerstein song, “Why Was I Born?” That same year, 1954, Carroll made her film debut in the game-changing film Carmen Jones.
4. She married four times!
Carroll’s first marriage was to record producer Monte Kay in 1987, the couple had a daughter in 1960. In 1973, Carroll married Las Vegas boutique owner Fred Glusman, but filed for divorce weeks later charging Glusman with physical abuse.
Her third marriage was in 1975 to Robert DeLeon, a managing editor of Jet magazine. Two years later, DeLeon was killed in a car crash. Carroll’s last marriage was to singer Vic Damone in 1987, and Carroll has said the marriage was turbulent. There was a legal separation in 1991, reconciliation and then a divorce in 1996.
5. Sidney Poitier was her bae!
There aren’t many women walking this earth who can say they dated legendary actor Sidney Poitier, Carroll is one of them. The two had an affair while they were married, Poitier to Juanita Hardy and Carroll to Monte Kay. The affair forced Carroll to divorce first husband Monte Kay to be with Poitier but Poitier didn’t keep up his end of the deal to leave his wife. Womp!
Even though Carroll and Poitier are great friends today, you can read about this tea in Carroll’s autobiography, The Legs Are the Last to Go.
6. Carroll is a breast cancer survivor!
Carroll was diagnosed with breast cancer in the 1990s during a routine mammogram. Her first reaction was to not tell anyone—not even her mother or daughter. During her appearance on ‘Oprah’s Master Class,’ she said, “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.’”
Carroll reevaluated her decision to keep her breast cancer a secret and has now become a public breast cancer activist, raising awareness about education and prevention, and supporting issues and events.
7. Won a Golden Globe award for ‘Julia’!
Carroll’s show, ‘Julia,’ was on television from 1968-1971. She was the first African-American actress to star in her own television series where she did not play a domestic worker. ‘Julia’ was about a widowed single mother who was a nurse in a doctor’s office. Carroll went on to win a Golden Globe in 1968 for Best TV star.
8. She had her own doll!
Lots of major stars get their own doll designed in their likeness, but Carroll was a first! A Barbie doll was created for her character, Julia, and it was a big deal at the time! Carroll’s Julia doll is still available for grabs on Amazon. Cop it for 60 bucks!