Paula Kelly, 'Night Court' and 'Uptown Saturday Night' Star, Dead at 77

Actress Paula Kelly, who was known for her work in television series including Night Court and [...]

Actress Paula Kelly, who was known for her work in television series including Night Court and movies like The Andromeda Strain, has died at age 77, the Washington Post reports. Kelly died on Feb. 8 in Whittier, California from chronic obstructive pulmonary disease.

paula kelly
(Photo: Getty / Michael Ochs Archives)

Growing up in Harlem in New York City, Kelly attended the Fiorello H. LaGuardia High School of Music & Art before graduating from Julliard School of Music, where she studied under choreographer Martha Graham. Kelly was a choreographer herself and co-choreographed BBC's 1976 presentation of Peter Pan with Michael Kidd. She made her Broadway debut in the 1964 musical Something More! and later appeared in The Dozens alongside Morgan Freeman.

In the '80s, Kelly starred as public defender Liz Williams on Night Court and earned an Emmy nomination for Outstanding Supporting Actress in a Comedy Series for her work. She was also nominated for an Emmy for her role as Theresa in the 1989 ABC two-night miniseries The Women of Brewster Place. The role made Kelly one of the first to portray a black lesbian character on television.

The actress also earned roles on shows including The Carol Burnett Show, Golden Girls, Kojak, Hill Street Blues, Santa Barbara, Sanford and Son, Medical Center, The Streets of San Francisco, The Richard Pryor Show and Police Woman.

Kelly appeared in several films including 1971's The Andromeda Strain and 1973's Soylent Green and 1974's Uptown Saturday Night. Also a singer and dancer, she had her breakthrough with the role of Helene in Bob Fosse's 1969 movie Sweet Charity, co-starring with Chita Rivera and Shirley MacLaine. She had previously portrayed Helene in a West End stage production of the show.

The entertainer is survived by her aunt Pearl Mackey, George Parkington, her partner of 17 years, niece Dina McCarthy and nephew Lehman Brockett. A celebration of Kelly's life will be held in Los Angeles at the Nate Holden Performing Arts Center, Fox News reports.

Photo Credit: Getty / Michael Ochs Archives