Nell Carter (September 13, 1948 – January 23, 2003) was a Tony Award-winning American singer and film, stage, and television actress.
Born Nell Ruth Hardy to Horace and Edna May Hardy in Birmingham, Alabama, Carter, who was black and Jewish, overcame adversity and hardships before finding success as an actress. She was raped at age 16, and later endured three miscarriages.
Acting and singing careerEdit
She appeared alongside Bette Davis in the 1974 stage musical Miss Moffat, based on Davis' earlier film The Corn is Green. The show closed before making it to Broadway.
She broke into stardom in the musical Ain't Misbehavin, for which she won a Tony Award in 1978. She also won an Emmy for the same role in a televised performance in 1982. Additional Broadway credits included Dude and Annie.
In 1979 she had a part in the Miloš Forman-directed musical film adaptation of Hair. Her famous vocal talents are showcased throughout the motion picture soundtrack. One of the more memorable moments in the film involves her rendition of the song "White Boys" where she can be seen dancing playfully as she performs the song.
In 1978, Carter was cast in the role of Effie White Broadway musical Dreamgirls, but departed the production during development to take a television role on Ryan's Hope in Los Angeles. When Dreamgirls premiered in late 1981, Jennifer Holliday had taken over the lead. She also took a role on television's The Misadventures of Sheriff Lobo, before landing a steady role as housekeeper Nell Harper on the sitcom Gimme a Break!, for which she earned Golden Globe and Emmy Award nominations. The popular show lasted from 1981 to 1987.
After the show began, Carter's life took a turbulent turn. She married George Krynicki, and converted to Judaism in 1982. She attempted suicide in the early 1980s, and entered a drug detoxification facility around 1985. Her brother Bernard died of AIDS in 1989.
During this period Carter appeared in low-budget films, TV specials, and on game shows such as Match Game and To Tell the Truth. However, she also co-starred in "Hangin' with Mr. Cooper", a sitcom that ran for several years as part of ABC's successful TGIF programming block.
In 1992, she had surgery to remove aneurysms. She had divorced Krynicki and married Roger Larocque that same year. In 1993 she divorced Larocque. She declared bankruptcy in 1995 (and again in 2002).
Appearing emotional and tearful on an episode of the Sally Jessy Raphael Show, Carter explained how she went to a Liza Minnelli concert during a very turbulent time of her life. Carter told Raphael how Minnelli, seeing Carter in an agonized state, ran offstage to tell her sister, Lorna Luft, to go out and take Carter backstage so that she could get some help. Minnelli and Luft helped her get into rehab.
In the mid-90's, Carter appeared on Broadway in a revival of Annie as Miss Hannigan. She was very upset when commercials promoting the show used a different actress, Marcia Lewis, who is white, as Miss Hannigan. The producers claimed that the commercials, which were made during an earlier production, was too costly to reshoot. Carter felt that racism played a part in the decision. "Maybe they don't want audiences to know Nell Carter is black," she told the New York Post. However, the ads did mention that Carter was in the show. "It hurts a lot," Carter told the Post. "I've asked them nicely to stop it — it's insulting to me as a black woman." Carter was later replaced by Sally Struthers.
Carter died from heart disease complicated by diabetes and obesity in 2003. At the time of her death, Carter had been rehearsing for a production of Raisin, a stage musical of A Raisin in the Sun in Long Beach, California and filming a movie, Swing.
Although Carter had previously declared bankruptcy and owed $1.1 million in back taxes, her friends and family were surprised to discover barely $200 in her bank account.
Carter is interred in the Hillside Memorial Park Cemetery in Culver City, California.
She is survived by her two adopted sons (Joshua and Daniel) and a daughter (Tracy), conceived during her rape, as well as by her partner Ann Kaser. Her bisexuality and relationship with Kaser did not become public knowledge until after her death.
- Swing (2003) - Grace
- Back by Midnight (2002) - Waitress
- Special Delivery (1999)
- Perfect Fit (1999) - Mrs. Gordy
- Fakin' Da Funk (1997)
- The Proprietor (1996) - Millie Jackson
- The Grass Harp (1995) - Catherine Creek
- The Crazysitter (1995) - The Warden
- Maid For Each Other (1989)
- Modern Problems (1981) - Dorita
- Back Roads (1981) - Waitress
- Hair (1979)
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