Dixie Carter dies at 70; star of ‘Designing Women’


Dixie Carter, who gained television fame as Julia Sugarbaker on the long-running CBS sitcom “Designing Women,” has died. She was 70.

Carter died Saturday morning at a Houston hospital of complications from cancer, said Steve Rohr, publicist for Carter and her husband, actor Hal Holbrook. “This has been a terrible blow to our family,” Holbrook said in a written statement. “We would appreciate everyone understanding that this is a private family tragedy.”

Carter had a long career as a stage actress and cabaret singer. But her signature role was as the opinionated star of “Designing Women,” which focused on four women running an interior design firm in Atlanta. The show ran from 1986 to 1993 with a long life in reruns.


Carter, Delta Burke, Annie Potts and Jean Smart were the original leads. “The show was written just for us,” Carter told the Palm Beach Post in 1999. “We all thought we were the prettiest and the funniest.”

Potts told the Associated Press at a 2006 cast reunion: “It was something so unique, because there had never been anything quite like it. We had Lucy and Ethel, but we never had that exponentially expanded, smart, attractive women who read newspapers and had passions about things and loved each other and stood by each other.”

Dixie Virginia Carter, the middle of three children, was born May 25, 1939, in McLemoresville, Tenn.

“When I was 4, I started dreaming I’d perform at the Met,” she told the Palm Beach Post in 1999. “As I got older, I felt a little less secure because I started to realize that my voice was not this enormous sound.”

She graduated from what was then Memphis State University with a bachelor’s degree in English. Her first stage work was in a 1960 Memphis production of “Carousel.” Carter debuted off-Broadway in “A Winter’s Tale” at the New York Shakespeare Festival in 1963 for Joseph Papp. “He told me that some of the biggest successes in New York were country bumpkins because they were so unsophisticated they’d try anything,” she said.

She gave up acting when she married investment banker Arthur Carter in 1967.

“I was brought up in the South and [quitting your career to be a wife and mother] was what you did,” she told the Hartford Courant in 2003. “My whole life I had been an actress in spurts because my family is more important to me than anything else.”

She restarted her career in the 1970s with a role on the soap opera “The Edge of Night.” Carter had several TV roles, including on “Diff’rent Strokes” and “Filthy Rich,” which would provide a connection to her star turn on “Designing Women.”

The executive producers of “Designing Women” were the husband-and-wife team of Linda Bloodworth-Thomason and Harry Thomason. Bloodworth-Thomason was involved with “Filthy Rich” and Burke was part of the cast.

Carter and Holbrook were married in 1984, and Holbrook appeared on “Designing Women” as Carter’s suitor, Reese Watson. Carter was nominated for an Emmy in 2007 for her role as a mother-in-law on “Desperate Housewives.” She also appeared in the drama “Family Law” from 1999 to 2002. In 2009, Carter and Holbrook were in the film “That Evening Sun.”

In addition to Holbrook, Carter is survived by daughters Mary Dixie and Ginna and a sister, Melba Helen Heath. She was divorced from Arthur Carter and actor George Hearn.