Pioneering Black star Ellen Holly passes away at 92

•Photo: ABC Photo Archives/Disney General Entertainment Content via Getty Images

Ellen Holly, a trailblazing actress who shattered racial barriers as the first Black actor to hold a leading role in the daytime soap opera One Life to Live, passed away on Wednesday at Calvary Hospital in the Bronx, New York. She was 92.

Born on January 16, 1931, in New York City, Holly’s career began on Broadway in 1956 with the adaptation of Too Late the Phalarope. Despite early success, she faced challenges securing consistent roles as a light-skinned Black woman in productions such as The Big Story, The Nurses and Dr. Kildare.

Holly gained widespread attention in 1968 when she penned an impactful opinion piece, “How Black Do You Need To Be?,” in The New York Times, addressing the entertainment industry’s struggles with racial representation. This caught the eye of One Life to Live creator Agnes Nixon, leading to Holly’s landmark role as Carla Gray.

Starring in the series from 1968 to 1980, with a return in 1983, Holly portrayed Carla in a groundbreaking love triangle between two doctors of different races. Beyond her on-screen achievements, she later revealed in her autobiography the challenges Black actors faced, including underpayment and poor treatment by show executives.

Post-One Life to Live, Holly continued her career with roles in The Guiding Light, In the Heat of the Night,10,000 Black Men Named George and Spike Lee’s School Daze. In the 1990s, she transitioned to become a White Plains Public Library librarian.

Ellen Holly is survived by her grand nieces, cousins and other close family members, leaving behind a lasting legacy in the entertainment industry and paving the way for future generations.

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