Olivia Cole is well known for her Emmy-award winning performance as Mathilda in Roots though she did perform additional notable TV roles such as Maggie Rogers in Backstairs of the White House, and, First Sunday. In the spring of 2016, she unretired to perform the role of Sadie Pressley, one of the Delaney sisters in Having Our Say at the Hartford Theater.
Olivia was born in Memphis, Tennessee on November 26, 1942 to Arvelia Myers (Cole) and William Cole. After migrating to Detroit, her mother followed a second migratory wave to New York City. She enrolled Olivia at the Mount Morris Presbyterian Church Head Start Center in Harlem founded by the esteemed Adair Davidson. After graduating Hunter College, Olivia attended Bard College and transferred to London’s Royal Academy of Dramatic Art graduating with honors (1964) which prepared her for her debut acting performance in Romeo and Juliet at the American Shakespeare Theater in Stratford, Connecticut.
Olivia continued her education at the University of Minnesota with a Master’s degree after- which she landed a role on Guiding Light. Her world-class education beginning in pre-school provided Olivia with the ability to perform diverse roles as the list that follows indicates. She performed: Ms. Harrison in Szysznyk, a CBS sitcom (1977-1978); Blanch in Report to Murphy, CBS weekly series (1982); Miss Sophie in The Women of Brewster Place, a CBS drama series (1990).
Ms. Cole also made appearances in the following television programs: North and South and Book I. She maintained her acting presence by guest-starring in such programs as Murder She Wrote, Police Woman, Family and L.A. Law. Her performance in the following Broadway plays demonstrates the breadth of her impact: A Raisin in the Sun, The School for Scandal, The Merchant of Venice, You Can’t Take it With You and The National Health.
In 1986, in Aaron Davis Hall, City College, New York, Ms. Cole was inducted as an honorary member of the Alpha Kappa Alpha Sorority.
In the latter part of her life, Ms. Cole enjoyed a peaceful life in the highlands of San Miguel de Allende in Mexico and served as administrator of the Shakespeare Reader’s Group. Over the years, Olivia would leave the community of artists she had come to love, take a one-and-half hour taxi-ride to the airport to board a plane to Houston, catch a connecting five-hour flight to New York City, and visit her dear mother, Arvelia Myers.
On December 6, 2017, Olivia made her final trip to New York City to attend her mother’s memorial on December 9, 2017 on a snowy Saturday afternoon. “I want this memorial to be an opportunity for those who knew and loved my mother to speak.” Ms. Cole listened as one loved-one after the other rose to share their celebratory moments with her mom, and she basked in the outpouring.
Six weeks later, back at her home in Mexico, another stage was set: a bright, sunny Friday, with Olivia seated in a chaise lounge chair center stage on the veranda of her home in San Miguel de Allende. Protected from the heat of the sun, Olivia overlooked her potted plants and colorful garden of greens and yellows and reds. Her arms cradled a Vanity Fair magazine with a picture of former American President Barack Obama on the cover. Then the Master Director called, “Blackout.” Seventy-five-year-old, Olivia Cole performed her last act A friend discovered the final performance mid-morning January 19, 2018.