When I found out on Friday afternoon that screen legend and all-around-diva extraordinaire Diahann Carroll had transitioned, it literally took my breath away. Much like the passing of the queen of soul Aretha Franklin, I have never lived in a world without Ms. Carroll’s presence. She’s always been on television or in some movie or singing on somebody’s stage. I cringed at the thought that I would never see her talent again. It’s an uneasy feeling that I’ve slowly grown accustomed to since so many of my older idols and icons are fading away. God knows y’all are gonna have to hospitalize me when Miss Ross goes on to glory. (wall slides)
I was first introduced to Ms. Carroll as a little boy while watching Dynasty with my mother back in the 1980s. Like so many television viewers back then, mama was a fan of all of the night time soap operas like Dallas, Falcon Crest and Knots Landing. But it was something about Dynasty that had mama hooked. I will never forget the way she sat up in her bed and screamed to the top of lungs (while shaking her pink sponge rollers neatly pinned underneath her scarf) when she realized MISS DIAHANN CARROLL was playing the sassy, snooty and bougie ‘Dominique Deveraux.’ Her entrance coupled with that “dragging the floor” white fur and that “Oh No She Didn’t” wig was a sight to behold.
Ms. Carroll had already made history as the first African American actress to star in her own television series with Julie in 1968. She had achieved the ultimate recognition as a Oscar nominee for her performance in Claudine. Now she was blazing yet another trail as the first black “bitch” on prime time TV and explained her sheer desire to do so in this throwback 1984 video below:
“I wanted to be the first black ‘bitch’ on television!” ~ Diahann Carroll, circa 1984
Needless to say, I was hooked on Dynasty too just like my mama. It was rare for me to see a black female character of her caliber on television with so much power and influence. She was also just as “bejeweled and bedazzled” as her white co-stars and I found pride in every minute of it. I also loved the way she werked the nerves of Joan Collins character ‘Alexis Colby’ (their shade will live forever in social media memes). More than that, her character really set the tone for other “black and bougie” girls to follow including The Fresh Prince of Bel-Air‘s ‘Hillary Banks’ and ‘Whitley Gilbert’ of A Different World. It was no surprise to me that Ms. Carroll would star as Whitley’s aristocratic mother ‘Marion Gilbert’ on the show.
RIP Ms. Carroll and THANK YOU for opening doors and paving roads for so many of us creatives to follow.