Olivia Cole, Emmy Award–Winning Roots Actress, Dead at 75

Olivia Cole. Photo: Michael Ochs Archives/Getty Images

Olivia Cole, an actress best known for her award-winning performance in Roots, died last Friday. She was 75. Her decades-spanning television career included recurring spots on popular series and starring roles on several notable miniseries. She also performed in movies and on stage.

After graduating from Manhattan’s Hunter College High School, Cole studied acting at Bard College and then the Royal Academy of Dramatic Art in London. After stints on Guiding Light and Police Woman, she landed the role of Matilda, Chicken George’s wife, in Roots in 1977. The miniseries, based on Alex Haley’s Pulitzer Prize–winning book, was a ratings juggernaut, with over 100 million viewers tuning in to see the finale. Cole received the Emmy for best supporting actress for the role.

Cole continued to appear in miniseries following the success of Roots with roles in Backstairs at the White House, North and South, and Brewster Place. She received a second Emmy nod for her work on Backstairs at the White House. She also played Judge Julie McFarlane on L.A. Law.

Cole died in her home in San Miguel de Allende, Mexico. No immediate family members survive her.

Olivia Cole, Emmy Award–Winning Roots Actress, Dead at 75