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Actress Ellen Holly dies at 92

Ellen Holly, the trailblazing One Life to Live actress who became the first Black person to star on a soap opera, has died. She was 92. In a statement shared with PEOPLE, her publicist Cheryl L. Duncan announced that the actress died in her sleep on Wednesday at Calvary Hospital in the Bronx, New York.

Holly began her career on stages in New York City and Boston and made her broadway debut in Too Late the Phalarope in 1956. She went on to star in other Broadway productions such as Face of a Hero, Tiger Tiger Burning Bright and A Hand is on the Gate. She also made appearances on television shows including The Big Story (1957), The Defenders (1963), Sam Benedict (1963), Dr. Kildare (1964) and The Doctors and the Nurses (1963 and 1964).

In 1968, Holly became a household name with her portrayal of Carla Benari on ABC’s One Life to Live. Her soap opera debut was a historic one as Holly became the first Black actress to secure a longterm contract on a daytime soap. She went on to play the role until 1980 and later reprised her character from 1983 to 1985.

Holly advocated for Black representation in television over the course of her entire career. In fact, the actress landed her historic role on One Life to Live when the soap’s creator Agnes Nixon came across an op-ed she wrote for The New York Times titled “How Black Do You Have to Be?” in 1968.

Nixon signed Holly for a one-year contract for $300 a week, and the actress took on the role of a White-passing woman who’s race wasn’t revealed until the end of her first season. In the show, a White doctor (Robert Milli) falls in love with Holly’s character after he treats her for a nervous breakdown when she finds herself attracted to a Black intern (Peter De Anda).

Carla’s “attempt to come to terms with her racial identity and her love triangle with two doctors,” launched the viewership of the soap opera “into the stratosphere,” according to Holly’s obituary. As a result, other popular soaps like All My Children and General Hospital began adopting Black story lines in response to Carla’s popularity, which helped ABC “dominate daytime for two decades.

Later in her career, Holly spoke out about being “underpaid” and facing “mistreatment” from the show’s executives alongside some of her Black castmates.

“I feel as if I was hired as a temporary gimmick to rocket-boost a payload of white stars into orbit. Basically, that’s what I was used as. And that’s how it worked out,” she explained in a 2012 interview with The Root.

Over the years, Holly wrote numerous pieces for the New York Times and published her autobiography One Life: The Autobiography of an African American Actress in 1996. She eventually retired from her career on television and became a librarian at White Plains Public Library after passing her civil service examination in the 1990s.

“She referred to her years there as some of the happiest of her life,” her obit states. “Holly had many friends and was a well-loved member of her White Plains community… She is sorely missed and mightily celebrated.”

According to the obituary, there will be no funeral per Holly’s wishes. Instead, her loved ones ask that expressions of sympathy be made in the form of donations to The Obama Presidential Center or St. Jude Children’s Research Hospital.

In other news – Songwriter Tiffany Red breaks silence on Cassie’s allegations against Diddy

Songwriter Tiffany Red is backing up the claims that her friend Cassie made last month in a lawsuit accusing Sean “Diddy” Combs of rape, sex trafficking and physical abuse. Red − who is credited as a writer for Jennifer Hudson’s self-titled 2008 album, which won a Grammy for Best R&B Album – wrote in an open letter to Combs published in Rolling Stone on Thursday that she is “traumatized” by the music mogul.

“Throughout my time knowing Cassie, I’ve seen many concerning instances,” Red wrote. “There were occasions when I heard (Combs) yelling at her and making threats, observed her so high I was afraid of her overdosing at a party (Combs) threw for her in Malibu, and witnessed (Cassie and Combs) getting IVs after a different night of partying.” Read More

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