First African-American With A Lead Role In An American Soap Opera Dies At 92

Actress Ellen Holly had many remarkable roles throughout her career, but she is probably best known as playing Carla Gray on the soap opera “One Life to Live.” What’s most notable about her role is that she was the first Black soap opera star. Getting the role on the show even surprised her at the time. She appeared in 522 episodes of the show from 1968 to 1985.

Other notable roles include films like “Take a Giant Step” and “School Daze” as well as TV series like “In the Heat of the Night” and “The Doctors and the Nurses.” After her role on “One Life to Live” ended, she also went on to portray the character Judge Frances Collier on the soap opera “Guiding Light.”

It has been awhile since Holly has acted. Her final acting role was in 2002 in the TV movie “10,000 Black Men Named George.”

Now, we have learned the sad news that Holly has died at age 92. The Hollywood Reporter reports that Holly’s publicist, Cheryl L. Duncan, announced that Holly died on Wednesday, December 6, 2023. She was at Calvary Hospital in the Bronx at the time of her death.

Back in 1968, Holly went to The New York Times about the problem of getting acting roles. She didn’t want to pass for a white actress. She wanted to be cast as a black actress. Agnes Nixon, the creator of “One Life to Live,” saw her piece in the Times, and that’s how she ended up getting the role in the soap opera.

Holly thought the audition process and the phone calls she received about auditioning for the part were very unusual compared to what she was used to. Yet, she was excited about the opportunity to act on “One Life to Live.” Watch the video below to hear Holly describe her experience auditioning for “One Life to Live.”

Holly’s cause of death has not been disclosed.

She is survived by her cousins Wanda, Julie, Carolyn, and Clinton as well as her grand-nieces Alexa and Ashley and their father, Xavier.

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