Darlene Conley, 72; actress in TV soaps, movies

From Times Staff and Wire Reports

Darlene Conley, a veteran stage and television actress who entertained daytime audiences for nearly two decades as the feisty fashion mogul Sally Spectra on “The Bold and the Beautiful,” has died. She was 72.

Conley died Sunday of stomach cancer at her Los Angeles home surrounded by family and friends, said Eva Demirjian, a publicist for the CBS serial drama.

Conley was diagnosed with cancer about three months ago, and the show’s producers were deciding how to portray the fate of her character, Demirjian said.

“She constantly entertained us with every move, every breath, every inflection of her voice. Whether she was the villain, the damsel, the sexpot or the comedian, Darlene was brilliant,” said Bradley P. Bell, the show’s executive producer.

She started on the long-running soap in December 1988, playing the flamboyant red-haired chief of Spectra Creations and rival to Forrester Fashions. Her portrayal of Spectra earned her two Daytime Emmy nominations for best supporting actress and six Soap Opera Digest award nominations.


Daytime television “is really the best medium today for women of a certain age to do something really flashy; it’s where what we do well as actresses matters,” Conley once said.

Born July 18, 1934, on the South Side of Chicago, Conley began her acting career at 15 when she was cast in the touring production of the Broadway play “The Heiress.”

“We were Irish, and it was a neighborhood of Germans, blacks, Poles and Jews,” Conley told the Chicago Tribune in 1992. “My earliest memory was that I was going to go on stage.... All my mother wanted was respectability and, when I told her I wanted to be an actress, she looked at me like I crawled out from under a rock.”

She later found work in front of the camera, making small appearances in the movies “The Birds” and “Valley of the Dolls” and such television shows as “Murder, She Wrote,” “Cagney & Lacey” and “The Mary Tyler Moore Show.”

She also appeared in several stage productions in Southern California, including “Cyrano de Bergerac,” “The Baker’s Wife” and “Night of the Iguana” at the Ahmanson Theatre in the 1970s.

She landed meaty roles on daytime television in the late 1970s, playing Edith Baker on “Days of Our Lives,” Trixie Monahan in “General Hospital” and Rose de Ville on “The Young and the Restless.”

Conley, who was divorced twice, is survived by her son, Raymond Woodson, and sisters Carol Fontana and Sharon Mylan.

Funeral arrangements were incomplete Tuesday.