Carroll was best known for her role voicing Ursula, the villain with an unmistakable laugh in the 1989 animated film The Little Mermaid. She has said in interviews that it was a “lifelong ambition” of hers to be in a Disney movie.
“She is physically bigger than life, but she’s bigger than life in her head, in her voice, in her laughter, and in her meanness,” she said about Ursula in an interview with Disney Parks. “She’s a mean ol’ thing. I think people are fascinated by mean characters … I’m even intrigued by her when I look at it.”
But she had an accomplished career long before that, especially in the early decades of TV. Born in Shreveport, Louisiana, in 1927, Carroll and her family moved to Los Angeles when she was 5. She booked gigs at comedy clubs after graduating college and then acted in theater shows. She was nominated for a Tony Award in 1956 for her Broadway debut in Catch A Star.
Carroll was a regular on the sitcom Make Room For Daddy and had a recurring role on The Danny Thomas Show. In 1957, she won an Emmy for Best Supporting Performance in the sketch comedy show Caesar’s Hour. She also often appeared as a guest on game and variety shows.
In the late ’70s, she put on a one-woman play, Gertrude Stein, Gertrude Stein, Gertrude Stein, which ran for 14 months in New York before she took it on the road. The show won her a Drama Desk Award for Best Actress and the Outer Circle Drama Critics’ award for Best Production Off Broadway in 1980.
At the time, she told the Washington Post that her children noticed how immersed she was in the role.
“I knew something was happening when my children told me, ‘Mom, you’re repeating everything three times,'” she said. “Then I noticed that I was not using contractions very much when I talked — there are no contractions at all in the first act of Gertrude Stein, Gertrude Stein, Gertrude Stein.”
Carroll also won a Grammy for Best Spoken Word, Documentary, or Drama Recording in 1981 for a recording of the play.