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Nell Carter from 'Gimme a Break!' Was Close to Death in the Early 80s and Also Battled Diabetes

Edduin Carvajal
Aug 13, 2021
10:43 A.M.
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Late actress Nell Carter, best known for “Gimme a Break!,” almost took her own life in the early 1980s. She also struggled with diabetes during her last few years.


Nell Carter’s role as Nell Harper on "Gimme a Break!" was one of the most well-loved characters on the show.  It was easy for her to get through to the audience the way she wanted to. 

Due to her outstanding performance, the actress received two Emmy and two Golden Globe award nominations. Even before working on the small screen, Carter was a recognized name in the industry as she won a Tony Award for her part in the Broadway musical “Ain’t Misbehavin’.”

Nell Carter in New York City, on June 4, 1989 | Source: Getty Images



Even though her professional career was successful, things took a turbulent turn soon after she landed her part in “Gimme a Break!." Unfortunately, Carter tried to take her own life. Apart from that, she was living with the mental scar of being sexually assaulted at gunpoint at the age of 16.

Due to her traumas, she relied on substances to get by. She also suffered three miscarriages and lost her brother Bernard to AIDS complications in 1989. By 1992, she suffered a brain aneurysm that almost killed her.  



Carter was extremely close to her brother Bernard. They used to talk every night, and they knew everything about each other's lives. Speaking about him, she once said:

"He was the best brother.  He was the best friend.  He started me singing."

Nell Carter at Rockefeller Center in New York City on August 1, 1995 | Source: Getty Images



Ultimately, her rocky personal life didn’t stop her from working on different projects after “Gimme a Break!” came to its end in 1987. She worked on projects like “You Take the Kids” and “Hangin’ with Mr. Cooper.”

Carter also took part in several theater plays, including the previously mentioned “Ain’t Misbehavin’,” “Hello, Dolly!,” “South Pacific,” and “The Vagina Monologues.” She worked until her sudden death in 2003.

Nell Carter in Houston, Texas on December 5, 1996 | Source: Getty Images



Sadly, the actress died in January 2003 at the age of 54. One of the most striking aspects of her death was that her then-13-year-old son was the one who found her in the family home.

Later, her publicist said that Carter had been fighting diabetes for many years. Since one of her last wishes was not to get an autopsy done, the cause of her death is not 100 percent clear.

Nell Carter with sons Joshua and Daniel in Los Angeles, California on September 16, 2000


Ultimately, the Los Angeles County Coroner’s officer ran blood tests, x-rays, and a cursory physical examination and pointed out that her death was caused by “probable arteriosclerotic heart disease, with diabetes, a contributing condition.”

Carter is survived by her two sons and daughter, Tracey. Years prior to her death, she revealed that her daughter was the product of her sexual assault. 


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