Famous for her roles as assertive Southern women, Dixie Carter is a talented TV, stage and big screen actress who is best remembered for her role as the gentle Southern interior decorator Julia Sugarbaker in “Designing Women,” a TV sitcom popular in the 80s through the 90s. Born as Dixie Virginia Carter on 25 May 1939 in McLemoresville, Tennessee, Dixie Carter spent many of her early years in Memphis where she competed and placed first runner-up in the Miss Tennessee pageant in 1959 and earned a degree in English at the University of Memphis. Despite a bungled tonsillectomy when she was seven years old, Dixie sang regularly, studied classical music and learned to play the trumpet, harmonica and the piano.
Dixie Carter made her first professional stage appearance in a local production of “Carousel” in 1960. Three years later, she moved to New York and got a role in a production of Shakespeare’s “A Winter’s Tale.” After taking an eight year leave from the stage to raise her two daughters, she returned to acting in 1974. Going against the advise of friends of doing a daytime soap, Dixie took an offer to portray Brandy Henderson in the soap opera “The Edge of Night,” which turned out to be her vehicle for recognition. After appearing for two years on the soap, Dixie Carter moved to LA to pursue prime time TV roles. While she has performed in a number of Broadway plays, her TV acting career peaked with her third marriage to actor Hal Holbrook appearing in popular TV series such as “Out of the Blue,” “On Our Own,” “Different Strokes,” Designing Women,” “Filthy Rich” and “Desperate Housewives,” which earned her an Emmy nomination in 2007.
Despite her hectic schedule, she found time to lend her support to civic and charitable causes performing her cabaret shows to raise funds for the Dixie Carter Performing Arts Center in Huntington, Tennessee, which was named in her honor when it opened in December 2005. On April 2007, she received the Evangeline Booth Award for her work as national spokesperson for the Salvation Army as well as the Tennessee Governor’s Award for excellence in the arts.
Dixie Carter is a strong supporter of gay rights and is a card-bearing Republican with libertarian views. During an interview in 2000, she admitted that she disagreed with many left-of-center commentaries made by her character, Julia Sugarbaker, in the series “Designing Women.” Being the ardent professional that she is, Dixie made a deal with the show producers that for every speech that the script required her to make, with which she disagreed, her Julia character in the show would be required to render a song in subsequent episodes.
Dixie Carter was diagnosed with endometrial cancer in early 2010. On April 10, 2010, her husband, Hal Holbrook, announced that his loving wife, Dixie, passed away from complications in Houston, Texas.