Image: The Everett Collection
Christine Sullivan, as played by Markie Post, is perhaps the first public defender that comes to mind from Night Court. But she was not the first. When the legal sitcom kicked off in 1984, its central characters were Judge Harry T. Stone (Harry Anderson), prosecutor Dan Fielding (John Larroquette) and public defender Liz Williams, as played by Paula Kelly.
The first Emmy nomination ever given to Night Court was for Kelly's work, as she earned a nod in 1984 for Outstanding Supporting Actress in a Comedy Series. After leaving the show, Kelly earned another Emmy nomination for performance in the miniseries The Women of Brewster Place.
Kelly began her career as a dancer, notably alongside the legendary Bob Fosse. In the late 1960s, Kelly, a native of Jacksonville, Florida, headed to London to perform in a West End production of Fosse's Sweet Charity. Her acclaimed work led to a key role in the 1969 film adaptation Sweet Charity.
Dancing gave Kelly her break on television, too. She made her screen debut in 1968, playing a dance instructor in a very early episode of The Carol Burnett Show.
That led to major roles in two cult-classic sci-fi films, The Andromeda Strain (1971) and Soylent Green (1973). Meanwhile, on the small screen, she landed guest spots on cop shows such as The Streets of San Francisco, Police Woman and Kojak.
Following Night Court, Kelly appeared in a recurring role on the soap opera Santa Barbara.
Kelly passed away on February 9, according to The Hollywood Reporter. She was 76.