Olivia Cole, 75, award-winning ‘Roots’ actress

By Christina Caron New York Times 

Olivia Cole, an actress best known for her Emmy Award-winning role in the acclaimed miniseries “Roots,” died Friday 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, played by Ben Vereen, in “Roots,” the eight-episode ABC miniseries based on the Pulitzer Prize-winning 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.”