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Ellen Holly, ‘One Life to Live’ star, dead at 92


Ellen Holly, an actress known for playing the role of Carla Gray on “One Life to Live,” has died. She was 92.

Holly “passed away peacefully in her sleep Wednesday at the age of 92 at Calvary Hospital in the Bronx, New York,” her representative confirmed to Fox News Digital.

Born in 1931, Holly got her start acting in theater in the 1950s. In 1956, she made her Broadway debut in “Too Late the Phalarope.” In 1960, she appeared in “Face of a Hero,” and later that decade, she performed in “Tiger, Tiger Burning Bright” and “A Hand is on the Gate.”

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A split image of two photos of Ellen Holly

Ellen Holly pictured on “One Life to Live,” left, and later in life. (ABC Photo Archives/Disney General Entertainment Content via Getty Images/Ashley E. Jones)

In theater, she acted along with stars like James Earl Jones, Jack Lemmon and Cicely Tyson.

While she was working on stage, she also began dipping her toe into film and television. In 1957, she made her TV debut on “The Big Story.” In 1959, she earned her first movie credit with a small role in “Take a Giant Step.”

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In 1968, she got the role for which she was best known on “One Life to Live.” From then until 1985, she appeared in over 500 episodes. According to a press release on her death obtained by Fox News Digital, “She was personally chosen for the role by television producer Agnes Nixon after she saw a New York Times opinion piece that Holly wrote called ‘How Black Do You Have To Be?’ about the difficulty of finding roles as a light-skinned Black woman.”

A photo of Ellen Holly on "One Life to Live"

Ellen Holly and Al Freeman Jr. shown during a scene on “One Life to Live.” (ABC Photo Archives/Disney General Entertainment Content via Getty Images)

It was noted that her casting on the show was “the first time a Black person starred in a soap opera.” Her character struggled with racial identity, and a large part of her story was “her love triangle with two doctors — one white, the other Black.”

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She gained a great deal of attention for the controversial role. The network received mail from people who were upset at seeing interracial dating on the show, but ratings soared. The press release added that “In later years, Holly spoke out about being underpaid and other mistreatment she claimed she and some of her fellow Black cast mates received from show executives despite their contributions to the show’s success.”

A photo of Ellen Holly

Ellen Holly and Robert Milli appeared together on “One Life to Live.” (ABC Photo Archives/Disney General Entertainment Content via Getty Images)

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Holly also appeared on another popular soap opera, “Guiding Light,” in episodes that aired from 1988 to 1993. Her last acting credit was in a TV movie called “10,000 Black Men Named George” in 2002.

For much of the 1990s, she did not take many acting roles, instead working as a librarian at the White Plains Public Library in New York. In her autobiography, “One Life: The Autobiography of an African American Actress,” she called the experience some of the happiest years of her life.

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Her family included several activists, including an aunt, Anna Arnold Hedgeman, who was one of the lead organizers of the March on Washington, and an uncle, Henry Highland Garnet, an abolitionist who went on to work as an ambassador to Liberia, appointed by President Garfield. She had been working on a documentary about her family’s achievements.



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