Trailblazing TV Actress Ellen Holly Passes Away at Age 92

The star became the first Black actress to land a leading role on a daytime soap.

Ellen Holly, the pioneering actress who became the first Black person to star as lead of a daytime show, has passed away at the age of 92.

Holly’s death was confirmed by her publicist Cheryl L. Duncan, who announced that the actress died in her sleep Wednesday (Dec. 6) at Calvary Hospital in the Bronx, New York.

In September 1968, Holly wrote to The New York Times detailing her challenges in landing roles for "a Black actress" due to her light skin. A section of her extensive six-page letter was published in an op-ed titled “How Black Do You Have to Be?” 

This caught the attention of “One Life to Live” creator Agnes Nixon, who offered her a groundbreaking one-year contract for $300 a week to play Carla Benari, a character perceived as a white woman.

RELATED:  Norman Lear, Creator of 'The Jeffersons,' 'Sanford and Son,' and 'Good Times,' Passes Away

Holly gained widespread acclaim for her performance, making history as the first Black actress with a long-term contract on a daytime soap opera. She portrayed this role until 1980 and later returned to reprise her character from 1983 to 1985.

After retiring from acting, Holly pursued a career as a librarian at the White Plains (New York) Public Library after passing her civil service examination in the 1990s.

The actress is survived by her grand-nieces, Alexa and Ashley, and their father, Xavier, as well as her first cousins, Wanda, Julie, Carolyn, and Clinton. Per Holly's wishes, there won't be a funeral; her family suggests donating to The Obama Presidential Center or St. Jude Children's Research Hospital in her name.

Subscribe for BET Updates

Provide your email address to receive our newsletter.

By clicking Subscribe, you confirm that you have read and agree to our Terms of Use and acknowledge our Privacy Policy. You also agree to receive marketing communications, updates, special offers (including partner offers) and other information from BET and the Paramount family of companies. You understand that you can unsubscribe at any time.