Publicist Steve Rohr, who represents Carter and her husband, actor Hal Holbrook, said Carter died Saturday morning. He would not disclose where she died or the cause of death. Carter and Holbrook lived in the Los Angeles area.
"This has been a terrible blow to our family," Holbrook said in a written statement. "We would appreciate everyone understanding that this is a private family tragedy."
A native of Tennessee, Carter was most famous for playing quick-witted Southerner Julia Sugarbaker for seven years on "Designing Women," the CBS sitcom that ran from 1986 to 1993. The series was the peak of a career in which she often played wealthy and self-important but independent Southern women.
She was nominated for an Emmy in 2007 for her seven-episode guest stint on the ABC hit "Desperate Housewives."
Carter's other credits include roles on the series "Family Law" and "Different Strokes."
She married to Holbrook in 1984. The two met four years earlier while making the TV movie "The Killing of Randy Webster."
Although attracted to one another, each had suffered two failed marriages and were wary at first.
They finally wed in 1984, two years before Carter landed her role on "Designing Women." Holbrook appeared on the show regularly in the late 1980s as her boyfriend, Reese Watson.
The two appeared together in her final project, the 2009 independent film "That Evening Sun," shot in Tennessee and based on a short story by Southern novelist William Gay.
One of three children, Carter was born in 1939 in McLemoresville, Tenn. She grew up in Carroll County and made her stage debut in a 1960 production of Carousel in Memphis. It was the beginning of a decades-long stage career in which she relied on her singing voice as much as her acting.
She appeared in TV soap operas in the 1970s, but did not become a national star until her recurring roles on "Different Strokes" and another series, "Filthy Rich," in the 1980s.
Those two parts led to her role on "Designing Women," a comedy about the lives of four women at an interior design firm in Atlanta.
Carter and Delta Burke played the sparring sisters who ran the firm. The series also starred Annie Potts and Jean Smart.
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