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Carole Cook, Lucille Ball protégé and ‘Sixteen Candles’ star, dead at 98

Carole Cook, a Lucille Ball protégée who was also known for her role in “Sixteen Candles,” died Wednesday. She was 98.

Her husband, Tom Troupe, revealed she suffered heart failure in Beverly Hills just three days before she was due to turn 99, per the Hollywood Reporter.

Born Jan. 14, 1924, in Abilene, Texas, Cook’s career took off in the 1960s following her appearances on “The Lucy Show” and “Here’s Lucy.”

Ball, who headlined those shows, was said to be the one who convinced Cook to change her name from Mildred Frances to Carole in honor of the actress Carole Lombard.

“I consider myself to have known two great women in Ethel Merman and Lucille Ball — great, great, enormous, genius talents,” Cook once said of her beloved inspirations. Ball died in 1989 at the age of 77.

Carole Cook in pink ensemble
At 98, Cook died from heart failure just days before her birthday, according to her husband.
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Carole Cook
The famed actress appeared in an array of comedies, including those starring her mentor Lucille Ball.
Ron Galella Collection via Getty

“I loved being with them; maybe because I thought some of that would splash on me. They loved their work, spent a lifetime doing it, and I don’t think Lucille Ball was happier than when she was rehearsing.”

Cook had a memorable turn in the hit rom-com “Sixteen Candles” as Grandma Helen, alongside star Molly Ringwald.

Her tremendous résumé includes “The Incredible Mr. Limpet,” “American Gigolo,” “Magnum, P.I.,” “Dynasty” and “Grey’s Anatomy,” in addition to Broadway.

There, she appeared in the original productions of “Romantic Comedy” and the Tony Award-winning musical “42nd Street,” in which she played Maggie Jones. She also landed the role of Ouiser in “Steel Magnolias,” which earned her a Helen Hayes Award nomination.

Her sense of humor extended beyond the screen and stage.

When she was reportedly investigated by the Secret Service for jokingly suggesting then-President Donald Trump should be assassinated — “Where is John Wilkes Booth when you need him, right?” she quipped — her response was simply that the prison garb wouldn’t suit her.

“They couldn’t have been nicer,” she said of the agents who questioned her. “I said, ‘I can’t go to prison, the stripes are horizontal, they don’t look good on me.’”

Carole Cook in 1975
In addition to on-screen roles, Cook starred in Broadway productions.
Disney General Entertainment Con
Carole Cook
Cook’s latest feature film was in “A Very Sordid Wedding” in 2017.

The Texas native said she wasn’t born into the glitz and glamour she enjoyed later in life.

“Abilene isn’t exactly the hub of Broadway — you’re up to your ass in mesquite trees — but I saw my first show when I was 4, knew I wanted to do that and I never deviated,” she said in an interview in July.

“I started out in the basement of the First Baptist church and worked my way up to Broadway, to movies.”

Carole Cook
In an interview this past summer, Cook noted that her hometown in Texas wasn’t “exactly the hub of Broadway,” forcing her to set her sights elsewhere.
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After attending Baylor University, she set her sights on the spotlight and Broadway. Eventually she was discovered by Ball and her husband, Desi Arnaz, who founded Desilu Productions, and they invited the eager actress to their workshop.

She even lived with Ball briefly — when the “I Love Lucy” star divorced Arnaz — and Ball served as the maid of honor at Cook’s nuptials.

Along with fame came fortune, which she reportedly donated to charitable causes near and dear to her heart. She was heavily involved in HIV/AIDS crisis support, even co-founding her own series of benefits, S.T.A.G.E., which raised money for people living with the illness.

Cook and her co-star Don Knotts
In “The Incredible Mr. Limpet,” Cook played Bessie Limpet.
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Tom Troupe and Carole Cook
Her husband, Tom Troupe, broke the news of her death Wednesday.
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“People I loved had been struck,” she said in an interview of the disease. “Some of the people I loved the most had it and that is what I wanted to do … I never felt afraid of AIDS. We would go to the hospital to visit our friends wearing heavy gowns and masks, but we knew it was to protect them from us and vice versa.”

Cook is survived by her husband; her sister, Regina Cocanougher; her stepson, Christopher Troupe; and his wife, Becky.

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