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Natalie Cole enjoyed her shift into television acting

Natalie Cole enjoyed her shift into television acting
Singer Natalie Cole, shown in 2013, turned to acting later in her career. (Victoria Will / Invision)

When singer Natalie Cole, who died New Year's Eve at the age of 65, burst on the scene 40 years ago, she made the rounds of talk shows, including "The Merv Griffin Show," "Dinah!" and "The Mike Douglas Show" as well as such musical/variety series as "The Carol Burnett Show." She also popped up on the small screen in "The Midnight Special," which she also hosted, and specials such as "Sinatra and Friends" and "Paul Anka... Music My Way."

Though her father, the legendary Nat "King" Cole acted and sang in feature films at the height of his career, Cole didn't start acting in earnest until the 1990s when she was in her 40s.

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In 1994, on the L.A. set of her first TV movie, "Lily in Winter," which aired on USA and was directed by Oscar-winner Delbert Mann ("Marty"), Cole spoke to the Times about her desire to act.

Acting, she said, was something she had contemplated for a long time. "I just wanted to make an impact.  I didn't want to start up and do little sitcoms or cameo things. I wanted to play a character.

And definitely one that didn't sing. Her father, who appeared in such films as 1965's  "Cat Ballou," 1957's "Istanbul" and "China Gate," didn't get the opportunity often to appear in non-singing roles.

"That was my biggest beef," Natalie Cole said.  "I got offers: 'Do you want to act? We have got a role for a singer.' I didn't want to do that.  It wasn't much of a stretch for me."

And when the producers of the acclaimed NBC series "I'll Fly Away" approached her about doing an episode of the series, Cole told them she wanted a part where she didn't have to sing.

"It took about a year and they found a story," said Cole, who appeared in the final episode of the series in 1993. That appearance led to her starring role in "Lily in Winter."

Post "Lily," Cole appeared  in several TV movies, including 1996's "Abducted: A Father's Love"; 1998's "Always Outnumbered," and in the acclaimed 2000 bio-pic  "Livin' for Love: The Natalie Cole Story," based on her book. In addition to Cole, the movie starred Diahann Carroll as her mother, James McDaniel as her father and Theresa Randle as the young Natalie.

She acted in 2006 as a guest star on "Grey's Anatomy" and "Law & Order: Special Victims Unit," and appeared as herself in specials and series,  including a stint as guest judge in 2012 on "RuPaul's Drag Race" and performing on "Kelly Clarkson's Cautionary Christmas Music Tale" in 2013.

On that "Lily in Winter" set 21 year ago, Cole had been eager to act again. "I would like to do something with a little action," she said. "I would like to play a cop or a tough lawyer and just totally move away from this. I don't want to be typecast."

How could she ever be typecast? There was no one like Cole.

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