Carol Mitchell-Leon was a renowned actress, director, and educator who graced the stages and screens of Atlanta for over two decades. She was best known for her roles in the plays of August Wilson and her marriage to theater legend Kenny Leon. But behind her dazzling smile and captivating performances, she was fighting a long and hard battle with kidney disease that ultimately claimed her life. Here is the story of Carol Mitchell-Leon, her cause of death, and her legacy.
A Star on the Rise
Carol Mitchell-Leon was born on October 31, 1941, in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania. She moved to Atlanta in the mid-1970s to pursue a degree in drama at Clark Atlanta University. She soon caught the attention of director Frank Wittow at the Academy Theatre, who cast her in several productions and became her mentor. She also wrote and performed her own one-woman show, “The Lady from Philadelphia”, based on her life experiences.
She met Kenny Leon, a rising star in the theater world, in 1984, when they both worked on a production of “A Soldier’s Play” at the Alliance Theatre. They fell in love and got married in 1987, becoming the power couple of Atlanta theater. They collaborated on many projects, especially the plays of August Wilson, whose works they championed and brought to life with passion and authenticity. Mitchell-Leon played memorable roles such as Berniece in “The Piano Lesson”, Rose in “Fences”, and Aunt Ester in “Gem of the Ocean”.
She also appeared in other plays by prominent playwrights, such as Lorraine Hansberry, James Baldwin, Alice Childress, and Edward Albee. She was praised for her versatility, depth, and honesty as an actress. She also had a number of film and TV credits, including Tyler Perry’s “Diary of a Mad Black Woman” and “Fried Green Tomatoes”.
A Hidden Struggle
Mitchell-Leon was diagnosed with kidney disease in the late 1980s, a condition that affects the function of the organs that filter waste and fluids from the blood. She kept her diagnosis private and continued to work as much as she could. She received a kidney transplant in 1990, thanks to a donor who was a friend of hers. She was grateful for the gift of life and hoped to live a normal and healthy life.
However, her health problems did not end there. She suffered from complications and infections related to her transplant and had to undergo several surgeries and treatments. She also developed heart problems and diabetes, which added to her challenges. She endured pain, fatigue, and frequent hospitalizations, but never complained or gave up. She remained optimistic and faithful, and relied on the support of her friends, family, and fans.
She also found solace and joy in teaching drama at Clark Atlanta University, where she inspired and mentored hundreds of students. She was affectionately called “Mama Leon” by her students, who admired her for her wisdom, generosity, and courage. She taught them not only the craft of acting, but also the values of living a “useful life”.
A Tragic End
Mitchell-Leon’s health took a turn for the worse in November 2007, when she had a kidney-related surgery that went wrong. During the procedure, her heart stopped beating for 13 minutes, and doctors said she would never regain consciousness. Her friends and former students launched a global prayer campaign for her recovery, using the Internet and social media to spread the word. Miraculously, she opened her eyes on Thanksgiving morning, defying the odds and the expectations.
However, she was not out of danger. She remained in a coma for several weeks, and then in a vegetative state for several months. She was transferred to different hospitals and nursing homes, where she received constant care and attention. Her husband, who divorced her in 1998 but remained close to her, visited her regularly and made decisions on her behalf. Her friends and fans also kept her in their thoughts and prayers, hoping for a miracle.
But the miracle did not come. Mitchell-Leon passed away on January 6, 2009, at Piedmont Hospital, at the age of 57. Her cause of death was a heart attack, brought on by her kidney disease and its complications. She was cremated and her ashes were scattered in a private ceremony. A public memorial service was held later, where her colleagues and students paid tribute to her life and work. They remembered her as a brilliant and beautiful star, who shone brightly on and off the stage, and touched many hearts and souls.
A Lasting Legacy
Carol Mitchell-Leon left behind a legacy of excellence, grace, and love. She was a trailblazer and a role model for many African American actors and artists, especially women. She was a pioneer and a leader in the Atlanta theater scene, where she helped shape and elevate the quality and diversity of the productions. She was a devoted and respected teacher, who nurtured and empowered the next generation of performers. She was a loyal and compassionate friend, who gave and received support and kindness.
She was also a fighter and a survivor, who faced her challenges with dignity and faith. She was a woman of substance and spirit, who lived a useful and meaningful life. She was a legend and an inspiration, who will never be forgotten.