Actress, singer and dancer Paula Kelly passed away over the weekend. She was 77. According to the Los Angeles’ Ebony Repertory Theatre, Kelly died as a result of chronic obstructive pulmonary disease.
One of the most visible African American actresses of the 1970s, Kelly appeared in several films and starring alongside some of the biggest names in Hollywood, including: ‘The Andromeda Strain,’ ‘Soylent Green’ and ‘Uptown Saturday Night,’ playing alongside Sidney Poitier. She also co-choreographed with Michael Kidd on BBC‘s 1976 presentation of ‘Peter Pan.’
In 1964, Paula Kelly made her Broadway debut in the musical Something More! as Mrs. Veloz. The play was directed by Jule Styne and starred Barbara Cook and Arthur Hill. The entertainer would later share the stage on Broadway with Morgan Freeman in The Dozens.
Kelly got her breakthrough role as Helene in Bob Fosse’s 1969 feature film debut ‘Sweet Charity,’ co-starring with Shirley MacLaine and Chita Rivera. She had previously played the role of Helene onstage in London‘s West End.
Paula Kelly appeared in numerous television classics such as: ‘Sanford and Son,’ ‘ Medical Center,’ ‘The Streets of San Francisco,’ ‘The Richard Pryor Show,’ ‘The Carol Burnett Show,’ ‘Kojak,’ ‘Golden Girls,’ ‘Mission: Impossible,’ ‘Hill Street Blues,’ and ‘Santa Barbara.’
A two-time Emmy nominee, Paula Kelly received a nod for Best-Supporting Actress for portraying public defender Liz Williams on NBC’s ‘Night Court’ in 1984 and again in 1989 for her role as Theresa on the ABC miniseries ‘The Women of Brewster Place,’ which also starred Oprah Winfrey, Robin Givens, Paul Winfield, Leon and Cicely Tyson.
Born in Jacksonville, Florida but grew up in the Sugar Hill section of Harlem, Kelly, the daughter of a jazz musician, attended the Fiorello H. LaGuardia High School of Music & Art and studied under famed choreographer Martha Graham at the Julliard School of Music where she majored in dance.
She performed as a soloist for major dance companies, including Donald McKayle, Martha Graham and Alvin Ailey. Kelly sometimes worked as an assistant choreographer on television musical specials such ‘Sammy and Friends,’ starring Sammy Davis Jr.
The tall, lithesome dancer married British film director, writer and producer Don Chaffey in 1985. He passed away in 1990.
Paula Kelly died at a nursing facility in Whittier, California and is survived by her aunt Pearl Mackey, George Parkington (her partner of 17 years), nephew Lehman Brockett and niece Dina McCarthy. A celebration of her life is scheduled to be held in Los Angeles at the Nate Holden Performing Arts Center. Further details will be announced at later date.