Jeffrey Carlson, known for groundbreaking ‘All My Children’ role, dies at 48

Jeffrey Carlson, with shoulder-length blond hair, wears a black velvet blazer, white shirt and tie.
Jeffrey Carlson, who broke barriers portraying transgender character Zoe in “All My Children,” has died. He was 48.
(M. Von Holden / WireImage for GLAAD)
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Jeffrey Carlson, who broke barriers portraying transgender character Zoe in “All My Children,” has died. He was 48.

On Friday, Chicago Shakespeare Theater actor Susan Hart announced Carlson’s death on Facebook, writing, “Good night my sweet sweet sweet prince among men. No words for our despair at losing you Jeffrey Carlson,” Hart wrote. “For those of you that don’t know, I’m very sorry to share the news that Jeffrey passed away yesterday.

“I have been respectful of his family’s privacy in not sharing the news sooner … also could not breathe or function … still can’t … love to all … just devastated.”


The Cook County medical examiner’s office confirmed Carlson’s death to The Times, adding that the cause and manner of death had not yet been determined.

Jeffrey’s sister, Elizabeth Carlson Gingras, shared a statement with The Times writing, “My handsome, brilliant, EXTREMELY talented brother Jeffrey Carlson has gone to be with our brother Gregory Carlson in heaven. I can’t wrap my head around why this has happened. What I do know is that I will forever cherish our laughs and the deep love we have for each other. He has left such an impact on so many people, it’s so hard to find the words to express how special he was. I have so much to say … but my heart isn’t well enough to provide Jeffrey with the words he deserves. I love you so, so much my beautiful brother.”

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Time Out New York theater editor Adam Feldman wrote that Carlson was an “exposed-nerve star of Broadway” and “a powerful actor and a painful loss.” Feldman added that he first saw Carlson in Lee Blessing’s “Thief River” when the actor was still studying theater at Juilliard. “It was clear he was something special.”

The “All My Children” star, known especially for his groundbreaking portrayal of the English rock star Zarf who transitioned to Zoe after coming out as transgender, starred in 59 episodes of the soap opera from 2006 to 2007. Zoe was the first out trans woman on daytime TV.

“Devastated beyond measure to hear of the passing of the beautiful and gifted Jeffrey Carlson,” Eden Riegel, who played Bianca on “All My Children,” wrote on Twitter. “I feel fortunate to have called this kind soul a friend and see his brilliant work up close. Gone far too soon — an unimaginable loss. Love you, Jeffrey. Rest friend.”

Carlson was born in Long Beach on June 23, 1975. His mother — seemingly in an act of uncanny kismet — chose the name “Jeffrey” because of her love for “All My Children” character Jeff Martin.


Carlson attended UC Davis with plans of becoming a veterinarian but was bit by the acting bug. He switched majors and, after graduating in 1997, moved to New York City to train at Juilliard, where his journey was documented by the PBS series “American Masters” as part of a feature on the performing arts school. He finished his training with Juilliard’s drama division in 2001 and followed his heart to Broadway.

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In 2002, Carlson made his Broadway debut in “The Goat or, Who is Sylvia?” by Edward Albee. He also had a leading rolein a Broadway production of Molière’s “Tartuffe.” His portrayal of ’80s-era Britpop star Marilyn in the Broadway musical “Taboo” received a Drama Desk nomination.

Carlson was especially known for his Shakespearean performances. He starred in productions including “Lorenzaccio” and “Hamlet” at the Shakespeare Theatre Company in Washington, D.C. At the Chicago Shakespeare Theater, his credits included “Henry IV Parts 1 and 2” and Christopher Marlowe’s “Edward II.”

Besides his many stage roles, Carlson acted on the big screen in “Happy End” (2003), “Hitch” (2005), “Backseat” (2005) and “The Killing Floor” (2007), and on the small screen in “Plainsong” (2004) and “Law & Order: Special Victims Unit” (2004).

In a Facebook post, Shakespeare Theatre Company memorialized Carlson, writing that the company was “saddened to learn of the recent passing of Jeffrey Carlson. Jeffrey gave beautiful and nuanced performances during a career which took him from television and film to Broadway and, fortunately for us, to STC. His memorable performances include Lorenzaccio (2005), Hamlet (2007, and 2008’s Free For All), and Romeo and Juliet (2016, and 2017’s Free For All). We send our love to Jeffrey’s friends, family, and colleagues, those who knew and loved him dearest.”

They concluded their post by quoting from Hamlet, “Good night, sweet prince, and may flights of angels sing thee to thy rest.”