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By CHRISTINA CARON | The New York Times

Olivia Cole, an actress best known for her Emmy Award-winning role in the acclaimed mini-series “Roots,” died on Jan. 19 at her home in San Miguel de Allende, Mexico. She was 75.

The cause was a heart attack, said Linda Cooper, the executive secretary of the cremation and burial association that is handling Ms. Cole’s remains.

In 1977, Ms. Cole won a supporting-actress Emmy for her portrayal of Matilda, the wife of Chicken George (Ben Vereen), in “Roots,” the eight-episode ABC mini-series based on the Pulitzer Prize-winning 1976 book by Alex Haley. The series followed his ancestors’ journey from West Africa to the United States as slaves, and many generations beyond.

More than 28 million viewers watched the first episode, and by the time the finale arrived more than 100 million people had tuned in, breaking ratings records. That year, The New York Times reported, “people everywhere, even those who had not seen it, were talking about ‘Roots.’ ”

“I thought ‘Roots’ would be a boon to all black actors and actresses,” Ms. Cole told United Press International in 1977. “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.”

If “Roots” did not make Ms. Cole a star, she nonetheless continued to work for decades. She had roles in the mini-series “Backstairs at the White House,” which earned her an Emmy nomination; another mini-series, “The Women of Brewster Place,” produced by and starring Oprah Winfrey; the movie “First Sunday,” starring Tracy Morgan; and numerous theater productions.

“Backstairs,” seen on NBC in 1979, was a behind-the-scenes look at the White House as told by the people who worked there, based on a best-selling memoir. Ms. Cole played the role of the first black maid to be employed on “the presidential floor.”

“The wonderful thing about ‘Backstairs’ is that it offers a challenging role for an actress, not a black actress,” Ms. Cole told The Philadelphia Inquirer in 1979. “If only people would stop thinking in terms of black and white, and think only of who’s the best in terms of ability!”

In 2016 Ms. 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. The play, written by Emily Mann and based on the book of the same name, explored the bond between two elderly sisters who grew up in the Jim Crow era. Ms. Cole played Sadie Delany, who became a high school teacher; Brenda Pressley played Bessie Delany, who became a dentist.

“This is the sort of theater that feeds you,” Ms. Cole told The Harford Courant at the time.

Ms. Pressley, who had known Ms. Cole since the 1990s, described her in a phone interview as eccentric, spiritual and devoted to her craft.

Original Source: http://nyti.ms/2FcIJga