Olivia Cole, 75, the Emmy Award-winning actress who played Chicken George’s wife in the mini-series “Roots,” died Jan. 19 of a heart attack at her home in San Miguel de Allende, Mexico.
In 1977, she won a supporting-actress Emmy for her portrayal of Matilda, the wife of Chicken George (Ben Vereen). The eight-episode ABC mini-series was based on the Pulitzer Prize-winning 1976 book by Alex Haley. The series followed the Haley family’s journey from West Africa to the United States.
Although “Roots” broke ratings records and the final episode attracted more than 100 million viewers, Cole told United Press International in 1977, “I thought ‘Roots’ would be a boon to all Black actors and actresses. But that didn’t prove to be the case. At least my telephone didn’t start ringing off the hook afterwards. And I don’t think it helped many others.”
Still, Cole continued to work for decades. She earned an Emmy nomination for playing the role of the first maid of color to be employed on “the presidential floor” of the White House.
She also performed in several mini-series including, “The Women of Brewster Place,” produced by and starring Oprah Winfrey; the movie “First Sunday,” starring Tracy Morgan; as well as numerous theater productions.
In 2016, Cole appeared in a production of the 1995 play “Having Our Say: The Delany Sisters’ First 100 Years” at the Long Wharf Theater and Hartford Stage in Connecticut. Cole was also a guest star on several TV shows including “Police Woman,” “L.A. Law,” and “Murder She Wrote.”
Olivia Carlena Cole was born on Nov. 26, 1942, in Memphis. She lived alone in Mexico, but her friends said she had a vibrant social life. No immediate family members survive.