Pioneering actress and singer Diahann Carroll dies at 84

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NEW YORK CITY -- Diahann Carroll, who pioneered television with her starring role in the 1968 series "Julia," died Friday, her publicist Jeffrey Lane confirmed to CNN. Carroll was 84.

Lane said she died early Friday, following a battle with breast cancer.

Known as much for her talent as she was her beauty and elegance, Carroll was beloved for her work in "Julia," as well as her subsequent performance as the wealthy and cultured Dominique Deveraux in the 1980s ABC prime-time soap opera "Dynasty."

She became the first African-American woman to star in a network sitcom when "Julia" premiered on NBC in 1968. Her role as widowed nurse Julia Baker, who was raising a charming young son, also broke ground for its portrayal of a black woman as something other than a domestic worker.

But while some called "Julia" groundbreaking for its non-stereotypical premise, others criticized the show for what they saw as a simplified depiction of the black experience in America in the late '60s.

In 1998, Carroll told the Television Academy Foundation she was reluctant to do the series. "I really didn't believe that this was a show that was going to work," she said of "Julia." "I thought it was something that was going to relieve someone's conscience for a very short period of time and I really thought 'Let them go elsewhere.'"

The series earned her an Emmy nomination and a Golden Globe award.

Carroll already had an established career by that point. Born Carol Diann Johnson in New York City, she attended the New York High School of Music and Art on a scholarship. At the age of 16, she adopted the name Diahann Carroll and won an audition for the Arthur Godfrey's Talent Scouts television show. The opportunity led to radio performances, modeling work and singing in nightclubs.

Carroll made her Broadway debut in 1954 in the musical "The House of Flowers," which also starred Pearl Bailey and Juanita Hall. That same year Carroll appeared in her first film, the now classic "Carmen Jones," starring Harry Belafonte and Dorothy Dandridge.

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