Diahann Carroll, pioneering actress known for 'Julia' and 'Dynasty,' dead at 84

Diahann Carroll, a pioneering American actor and singer, has died at the age of 84.

She was an Oscar-nominated actress and singer who won critical acclaim as the first black woman to star in a non-servant role in a TV series as "Julia."

Carroll's daughter, Susan Kay, told The Associated Press her mother died of cancer on Friday in her Los Angeles home.

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During her long career, Carroll earned a Tony Award for the musical "No Strings" and an Academy Award nomination for "Claudine."

This 1972 file image shows singer and actress Diahann Carroll.

This 1972 file image shows singer and actress Diahann Carroll. (AP Photo/Jean-Jacques Levy, File)

But she was perhaps best known for her pioneering work on "Julia." Carroll played Julia Baker, a nurse whose husband had been killed in Vietnam, in the groundbreaking situation comedy that aired from 1968 to 1971.

Although she was not the first black woman to star in her own TV show (Ethel Waters played a maid in the 1950s series "Beulah"), she was the first to star as someone other than a servant.

This May 8, 2013 file photo shows Diahann Carroll at the world premiere of "Peeples" in Los Angeles.

This May 8, 2013 file photo shows Diahann Carroll at the world premiere of "Peeples" in Los Angeles. (Richard Shotwell/Invision/AP, File)

NBC executives were wary about putting "Julia" on the network during the racial unrest of the 1960s, but it was an immediate hit.

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It had its critics, though, including some who said Carroll's character, who is the mother of a young son, was not a realistic portrayal of a black American woman in the 1960s.

This Sept. 20, 1987 file photo shows actress Diahann Carroll at the Emmy Awards in Los Angeles.

This Sept. 20, 1987 file photo shows actress Diahann Carroll at the Emmy Awards in Los Angeles. (Photo/Douglas Pizac, File)

"They said it was a fantasy," Carroll recalled in 1998. "All of this was untrue. Much about the character of Julia I took from my own life, my family."

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Not shy when it came to confronting racial barriers, Carroll won her Tony portraying a high-fashion American model in Paris who has a love affair with a white American author in the 1959 Richard Rodgers musical "No Strings." Critic Walter Kerr described her as "a girl with a sweet smile, brilliant dark eyes and a profile regal enough to belong on a coin."

The Associated Press contributed to this report.