Trailblazing Stage and Screen Star Jeffrey Carlson Dies at 48 | Playbill

Obituaries Trailblazing Stage and Screen Star Jeffrey Carlson Dies at 48

Carlson made history playing one of the first transgender characters on daytime television in the series All My Children.

Jeffrey Carlson

This article has been updated to include a statement from Jeffrey Carlson's sister, Elizabeth Carlson Gingras.

Actor Jeffrey Carlson has passed away at the age of 48. The stage and screen star notably played the one of the first trans characters on daytime television in the series All My Children. Carlson's death was announced by his close friend and colleague Susan Hart, who shared that he passed July 6.

Born in 1975, Carlson's future in acting was immediately foreshadowed, being given the first name "Jeffrey" because his mother was a fan of the character Jeff Martin on the daytime television series All My Children. Carlson grew up in Long Beach, California, and first studied dramatic acting at the University of California Davis. After graduating in 1997, he moved to New York City to train at Juilliard as a member of their Drama Division's Group 30. He completed his training in 2001, and it wasn't long before he made his Broadway debut.

In 2002, Carlson appeared on the Broadway stage for the first time in Edward Albee's The Goat or Who is Sylvia?. The next year, he starred in the Broadway revival of Molière's Tartuffe. Shortly after, he played the role of Marilyn in Boy George's Broadway musical Taboo, for which he received a Drama Desk nomination. He then began his television and film career with a role in the romantic comedy Hitch starring Will Smith. 

In 2006, he first appeared on the very television show for which he received his name: All My Children. His groundbreaking onscreen character was a British rockstar named Zarf, who discovered though an arc on the series that she was a transgender woman, transitioning as Zoe. She also falls in love with a lesbian character, Bianca. Zoe's journey throughout the television series showed her attending support group sessions and meeting with an endocrinologist for gender-affirming healthcare.

Zoe is believed to be the first transgender character on daytime television to come out and go on a transition journey, whereas many other early instances of transgender representation on television were characters who were already out, or had already begun their journey. All My Children received a GLAAD Media Award for Outstanding Daily Drama in 2007 due to Zoe's storyline and Carlson's performance.

Carlson went on to have a prolific career with classical works, particularly those by Shakespeare. At the Shakespeare Theatre Company in Washington, D.C., he performed in several productions, including the titular roles in Lorenzaccio and Hamlet. At the Goodman Theatre, he performed in Measure for Measure. And at Chicago Shakespeare Theater, he starred in a number of productions, including Henry IV, Parts 1 and 2 and Christopher Marlowe's Edward II

Carlson was most recently living and teaching in Chicago, and was beloved within the Shakespeare community. Broadway's Patrick Page reflected on Carlson's passing in a Facebook post, describing him as a "great classical actor and a sensitive, luminous human being." He wrote: "I was fortunate to be Claudius to Jeffrey Carlson’s Hamlet, and experience his quicksilver talent at close range. It was, as Coleridge said of Kean, 'like reading Shakespeare by flashes of lightning.' There was no one like him."

In a Facebook post, Shakespeare Theatre Company also expressed their condolences and grief for Carlson's passing, and shared a quote from Hamlet's fifth act: "Good night, sweet prince, and may flights of angels sing thee to thy rest."

Carlson's sister Elizabeth Carlson Gingras, has provided the following statement to Playbill: "My handsome, brilliant, EXTREMELY talented brother Jeffrey Carlson has gone to be with our brother Gregory Carlson in heaven. I can’t wrap my head around why this has happened. What I do know is that I will forever cherish our laughs and the deep love we have for each other. He has left such an impact on so many people, it’s so hard to find the words to express how special he was. I have so much to say… but my heart isn’t well enough to provide Jeffrey with the words he deserves. I love you so, so much my beautiful brother."

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