Carole Cook, a veteran stage and screen actor and the protege of Lucille Ball, has died. She was 98.
Her agent Robert Malcolm told CNN the actor died “peacefully” Wednesday from heart failure. Cook starred in the iconic 1984 John Hughes film “Sixteen Candles” and television staples including “Murder, She Wrote” and “Grey’s Anatomy.”
Cook, a native Texan born in 1924, was in her mid-30s and doing theater in Ohio when Ball discovered her. The “I Love Lucy” star took Cook under her wing and changed her life ― including encouraging her to move to Los Angeles and use a different name.
“I had no place to live in California so I lived in Lucy’s guesthouse until I got settled,” Cook told the website Queer Voices in 2019. “She changed my name. I was born Mildred Frances Cook but Lucy didn’t think it was a good show business name.”
Cook said Ball told her she had “the same healthy disrespect for everything” as actor Carole Lombard and thus christened her after the “Mr. & Mrs. Smith” star.
Cast in nearly a dozen shows, Cook became a regular on “The Lucy Show” from 1963 to 1968 and joined its spinoff series, “Here’s Lucy,” in 1969.
“I remember Lucy saying clearly, ‘Carole, practice the art of selfishness,’ and what she meant by that is if you take care of yourself you are helping everyone else,” she told Everything Zoomer in 2022. “In this business, you meet everyone from the lowest to the highest and I take from everyone I meet on this journey. And, if you’re smart, you take the good things. Be very selective.”
Cook made her Broadway debut in 1979’s “Romantic Comedy” and returned to the theater district for “42nd Street” in 1980, the same year Paul Schrader cast her in “American Gigolo.” She took her final bow on Broadway in 2006 for “70, Girls, 70,” according to Broadway World.
Some might remember Cook best as Grandma Helen, who picked at her teenage granddaughter’s body in “Sixteen Candles.” She graced the small screen with roles in “The A-Team,” “Knight Rider,” “Magnum P.I.” and the cult-classic soap “Dynasty.”
Cook’s rising star coincided with the AIDS crisis, leading her to advocate for several charities, including the musical theater HIV/AIDS benefit S.T.A.G.E. LA and the San Francisco organization Help Is On The Way.
“People I loved had been struck,” she told Everything Zoomer. “Some of the people I loved the most had it and that is what I wanted to do … I never felt afraid of AIDS. We would go to the hospital to visit our friends wearing heavy gowns and masks, but we knew it was to protect them from us and vice versa.”
Cook made headlines in 2018 while commenting on then-President Donald Trump after a banner in his support was unfurled at a Los Angeles theater. “Where’s John Wilkes Booth when you need him?” she said to TMZ.
The film “Still Waiting in the Wings” that year marked Cook’s final film role.
Cook once reflected on how she would like to be remembered.
“I would like to be remembered as somebody who brought a little difference to people’s lives for the good,” she told Broadway World in 2015. “We all want to be beloved, and that would be nice. I’d like for them to think ‘I’m glad I knew her.’”
She is survived by her husband, actor Tom Troupe.