Paula Kelly, the legendary Broadway and Emmy-winning actress who made a name for herself as the leading lady of the film adaptation of Bob Fosse’s play, Sweet Charity.
Kelly died on Sunday in Inglewood, California, according to her nephew who confirmed her death to The Hollywood Reporter.
Kelly was born in Jacksonville, Florida, but moved to Harlem as a young child and was raised in the Sugar Hill section of the historic Black neighborhood. She eventually attended the Fiorello H. LaGuardia High School of Music & Art and Juilliard. After leaving Juilliard she joined famed dance companies under Martha Graham and Alvin Ailey.
“I’m not interested in being a really big star,” she once told Ebony magazine in 1975. “I want to be in control of my life. I don’t want to worry about the rent.”
Kelly earned an Emmy nomination in 1984 for portraying a public defender Liz Williams on the inaugural season of NBC’s Night Court and received another in 1989 for playing Theresa, one-half of a lesbian couple, on the ABC miniseries The Women of Brewster Place, a film adaptation of Gloria Naylor’s 1982 book that broke barriers and produced by Oprah Winfrey.
Throughout her career, she made numerous noteworthy appearances on TV including Sanford and Son, Medical Center, The Streets of San Francisco, Police Woman, Kojak, Hill Street Blues, Room for Two and St. Elsewhere, and a cult following with an appearance on The Golden Girls as a housekeeper who left mystery amongst the women after she was accused of casting a voodoo spell on her.
She also starred in movies The Andromeda Strain (1971), Cool Breeze (1972), Top of the Heap (1972), The Spook Who Sat by the Door (1973), Soylent Green (1973), Uptown Saturday Night (1974) — as Leggy Peggy — and Jo Jo Dancer, Your Life Is Calling (1986).
Filmmaker Lee Daniels and actress Jackée Harry, who starred with Kelly in Brewster Place, left heartwarming remembrances of Kelly on social media.
Thank you Paula for sharing your gifts.