Groundbreaking Soap Star & Hallmark Alum Dies at 48

A rose on a gravestone

Heavy Red rose on a gravestone

Actor Jeffrey Carlson is being remembered by friends and famous colleagues as a gifted artist whose diverse career included starring in multiple Broadway shows, teaching aspiring artists how to perform Shakespeare, appearing in a Hallmark Hall of Fame movie, and joining the cast of “All My Children” for a groundbreaking role as one of daytime TV’s first transgender characters.

Carlson died on July 6, 2023, at age 48, according to actress Susan Hart, with whom he taught Shakespearean acting classes in Chicago for years. Hart shared the news via Facebook the following day in a heartbreaking post.

“Good night my sweet sweet sweet prince among men,” she wrote. “No words for our despair at losing you Jeffrey Carlson. You were … oh God… no words… so so loved and adored. For those of you that don’t know, I’m very sorry to share the news that Jeffrey passed away yesterday. I have been respectful of his family’s privacy in not sharing the news sooner… also could not breathe or function… still can’t… love to all… just devastated..”

As news spread of Carlson’s death over the weekend, many colleagues and fans took to social media to share their grief and pay tribute.

Jeffrey Carlson Was Named After His Mom’s Favorite Character on ‘All My Children’

News of Carlson’s death became more widespread on July 8, when Time Out New York theater editor Adam Feldman tweeted the news.

He wrote, “RIP Jeffrey Carlson, 48, exposed-nerve star of Broadway (Billy in The Goat, Marilyn in Taboo) and TV (the groundbreaking trans character Zoe on All My Children). A powerful actor and a painful loss.”

Carlson’s career began in theater after he attended the esteemed Julliard School, he told Windy City Times in 2013, and quickly landed his first Broadway role in Edward Albee’s “The Goat, or Who is Sylvia?” co-starring Bill Pullman and Sally Field. After nearly a year in that show, he moved on to other plays including “The Miracle Worker” with Hilary Swank and Rosie O’Donnell’s show “Taboo,” which marked the first time he’d ever played a drag queen — an experience he called “a crazy rollercoaster.”

Beyond the theater, Carlson landed a part in the 2004 Hallmark Hall of Fame movie “Plainsong” starring Aidan Quinn, Rachel Griffiths and America Ferrera. In 2005, he appeared in the Will Smith feature film “Hitch.”

All My Children” came calling in 2006, but at first it was for a small, one-day role. Even so, he told Windy Cindy Times, his mom was thrilled, given that she’d named her son after her favorite TV character on the show, Dr. Jeff Martin.

“She was so proud,” Carlson said. “It was fascinating the way it happened. I was asked to do only one day and they called me a month and a half later to write me on the show, then they told me about the transgender role. So I don’t think my mom knew about it in that capacity. I had to do a big coming-out transgender story on daytime television.”

Carlson appeared in 56 episodes of “All My Children” as the character known as Zoe/Zarf beginning in 2006, per IMDb.

“I had a meeting with the producer and they explained that they wanted to do the first coming out story of a transgender from male to female on daytime television,” Carlson told Windy City Times. “I asked, ‘How are you going to do it?’ She said, ‘With dignity.’ Then I said okay and they told me what they were doing with Eden Riegel’s character, Bianca, coming out as a lesbian and I was sold. I would not have gone on the show for sensational pieces.”

In response to the news of Carlson’s death, Riegel tweeted,Devastated beyond measure to hear of the passing of the beautiful and gifted Jeffrey Carlson. I feel fortunate to have called this kind soul a friend and see his brilliant work up close. Gone far too soon — an unimaginable loss. Love you, Jeffrey. Rest friend.” 

In 2021, Carlson joined many “All My Children” alumni on stage for “ABC Daytime: Back on Broadway,” hosted by Cameron Mathison, which raised $130,565 to benefit Broadway Cares/Equity Fights AIDS, according to Broadway World.

Friends Pay Tribute to Jeffrey Carlson: ‘He Dazzled Me’

Friends, fans and famous co-stars have taken to social media to pay homage to Carlson, who had continued to teach and act in theater in recent years, according to Time Out New York’s Feldman, who tweeted that Carlson had moved to Chicago to teach and act after his last off-Broadway show in 2012.

Stage and TV actress Marin Ireland replied, “Devastated to hear of this. A wonderful friend and brilliant actor. We did a play together many years ago and he dazzled me.”

When the Bygone Broadway Instagram account posted a photo of Carlson in “Taboo,” Rosie O’Donnell commented, “sad ending for a wonderful man.”

“Chicago Fire” actor Steven Boyer wrote, “Jeffrey was kind. Truly kind. The world will miss having that kindness in it.”

Broadway and movie star Patrick Page, who most recently appeared in the holiday film “Spirited,” shared an Instagram photo of he and Carlson when they starred together in a production of “Hamlet.”

“We lost a great classical actor and a sensitive, luminous human being this week,” 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. Goodnight, sweet Prince.”

At the time of publication, a cause of death had not been released.