Carole Cook, Lucille Ball Protégé and AIDS Activist, Dead at 98

Carole Cook. Photo: Giulio Marcocchi/Getty Images

Carole Cook, an actress known for being Lucille Ball’s protégé, died of heart failure at 98, her husband, actor Tom Troupe, shared on January 11, per The Hollywood Reporter.

Born in Abilene, Texas, the actress began her career in earnest when Ball hired her for a musical revue and promptly put her under contract — changing Cook’s name from Mildred to Carole and allowing her to sleep in the guesthouse until she was able to get on her feet in Hollywood. Cook would go on to have roles in two post–I Love Lucy shows led by Ball — The Lucy Show (as Thelma Green) and Here’s Lucy (as Cynthia Duncan).

Cook was also known for her work onstage and on the big screen. She notably starred as Molly Ringwald’s grandmother in 1984’s Sixteen Candles. And she appeared in the original Broadway productions of 42nd Street and Romantic Comedy and played Dolly Levi in the Australian production of Hello, Dolly! — only the second actress to play the iconic role after Carol Channing.

In the ’80s, Cook got involved with HIV/AIDS activism through the STAGE Benefit in 1984 — she and the other performers received no compensation for their performances, and tickets cost just $10. “We had to explain ourselves, since the disease was so new and still a mystery to people,” Cook told Queer Voices in 2016. “We cleaned the toilets, took out the trash, and helped each other with makeup and costumes for the show.”

Cook is survived by her stepson (Christopher) and his wife (Becky), her sister Regina, and nieces and nephews.

Carole Cook, Lucille Ball Protégé, Dead at 98