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Actress-singer Nell Carter dies

Nell Carter
Nell Carter

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BEVERLY HILLS, California (CNN) -- Actress and singer Nell Carter, best known for her role as the housekeeper in the TV sitcom "Gimme a Break!", died Thursday. She was 54.

Carter's publicist Roger Lane said Carter collapsed and died of natural causes in her Beverly Hills home.

She had suffered from diabetes and had recovered from a near-deadly bout with a brain aneurysm in the 1990s. Lane said he did not know if her diabetes contributed to her death.

Carter, who was born September 13, 1948, in Birmingham, Alabama, first rose to stardom on the New York stage. After a series of roles on- and off-Broadway -- and a short-lived part in the soap opera "Ryan's Hope" -- in 1977 she starred in the show "Ain't Misbehavin'!", a revue of the works of composer Fats Waller. She was rewarded for her performance with an Obie Award, and later with a Tony Award when the show moved to Broadway.

Several years later, she earned an Emmy for her performance on a television presentation of the musical.

Despite her Broadway success, Carter would have preferred to sing opera, according to The Associated Press.

"When I was growing up, it was not something you aspired to," she said in 1988. "I was a weirdo to want to be in show business. Most kids wanted to be teachers or nurses."

"Gimme a Break!" ran from 1981 to 1987. Carter was nominated for two Emmys for her role as housekeeper Nell Harper, who helped run the household of police chief Carl Kanisky, played by Dolph Sweet. She also garnered two Golden Globe nominations for the role.

Carter also appeared as P.J. Moore on "Hangin' with Mr. Cooper" and as a psychiatrist in the sitcom "Reba."

Her diabetes wasn't easy to handle at first, she told USA Today in 2001.

"When I first found out I had diabetes I denied it," she said. "Being diabetic was not what I thought of as being normal, and I feared the stigma of having to take medicine and having people stick me with a needle."

But, she added, "I learned this was basically manageable."

Carter is survived by her two adopted sons and an adult daughter.

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