Born Nell Ruth Hardy to Horace and Edna Mae Hardy
in Birmingham, Alabama, USA, Carter, who was one of nine children,
overcame adversity and hardships before finding success as an actress.
Her father, Horace, died in an accident with a power line. She was
raped at age 16 and became pregnant from the attack, giving birth
to a daughter, Tracy.
Acting and singing career
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 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
In 1978, Carter was cast as Effie White in the Broadway
musical Dreamgirls, but departed the production during development
to take a television role on the ABC-TV soap opera, Ryan's Hope
in New York. When Dreamgirls premiered in late 1981, Jennifer Holliday
had taken over the lead. Carter 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 mathematician and lumber executive George Krynicki,
and converted from Presbyterianism 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.
Carter had three children: a daughter Tracy and
two sons Daniel and Joshua. She adopted both her sons as newborns
over a four month period. She attempted to adopt twice more but
both adoptions fell through. In one case she brought home a child,
Mary, but the birth parents demanded money before they would sign
the adoption papers. In her final attempt, she allowed a young pregnant
woman to move into her house with the plan to adopt the child but
the mother decided to parent her child.
During this period Carter appeared in low-budget
films, TV specials, and on game shows such as Match Game and To
Tell the Truth. She also co-starred in Hangin' with Mr. Cooper.
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). She also endured three miscarriages.
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 get Carter into rehab for her cocaine problems which she
In the mid 1990s, 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, were 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 on January 23, 2003. She was 54 years old. 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.
Carter had previously declared bankruptcy and owed
$1.1 million in back taxes, and was later discovered to have 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 sons (Joshua and Daniel),
a daughter (Tracy), and 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