Candi Nolan, an actress and entertainer whose career spanned Broadway stages and TV screens across American living rooms before she returned to her small-town roots and settled in southern Arkansas, died last week at her El Dorado home after a years-long battle with a rare neurodegenerative disease. She was 68.
Family and friends described her presence and charm as spellbinding. She captured the attention of everyone else in the room, they said, by casting a spotlight on those around her until her death on Thursday.
“Everyone fell under her spell,” said husband Robert Nolan, an El Dorado businessman whom she met by chance eight years before their marriage. “It was a blessing to have her in my life.”
Born Candice Earley to a military family in Fort Hood, Texas on Aug. 18, 1950, Nolan moved with her parents to Germany and settled in Lawton, Oklahoma.
She developed a four-octave coloratura soprano voice in school and was selected Miss Lawton and first-runner up in Miss Oklahoma.
Known better as Candi among friends, she frequently visited her Oklahoma hometown, traveling back and forth from Manhattan years later.
“She really was a small-town girl in a way,” said friend Christoph Keller, who will be delivering the eulogy next week. “It was the core of who she was.”
Candi Nolan attended Trinity University in San Antonio en route to San Francisco in 1969 where her stage career began.
Robert Nolan recalls her stories of quitting a banking job because she refused to wear a dress, sleeping in a sleeping bag on stage and fashioning hot water, ketchup packets and free crackers into tomato soup during her time in the Bay Area.
But he said it was her love of performing that eventually saw her land a lead role in the musical Hair.
At 21, Nolan moved to New York, where she starred in Jesus Christ Superstar before securing a role as Donna on the soap opera All My Children. She played that character for 18 years.
She also juggled starring roles as Sandy in Grease and South Pacific while appearing on television.
“Her role on Broadway was quite something else, but she found happiness in south Arkansas,” said Madison Murphy, Robert’s cousin who also lived across the street from the couple in El Dorado.
Robert Nolan said meeting his future wife was “God’s timing.”
His flight had been re-routed, and he remembers seeing his future wife reading a script before working up the courage to talk to her.
When he asked how she went from rural Oklahoma to New York City “she batted her eyes four times and told me, ‘I turned right at Chicago’,” Robert Nolan said.
He said he thought about her every day after the plane landed and they went their separate ways. Eventually, he sent her a letter and got a prompt call when she received it.
The two dated for eight years before Robert Nolan proposed. He was nervous, worried that she wouldn’t want to return back to life in a small town, the “slow lane,” he said.
Her response: “Why have you waited so long for?”
Candi Nolan retired from acting and moved to El Dorado in what she described as the best role of her life after marrying her husband on March 14, 1992 and caring for his children and eventually their grandchildren.
According to her obituary, Candi Nolan died “surrounded by family” after eight years battling Multiple Systems Atrophy.
She is survived by her husband and his children: Rob, Justin and Carrie; and their families; sister-in-law, Lurlene Earley; niece, Rebecca Craven; and nephew, Dr. Wesley Earley; as well as many friends in El Dorado; Lawton, Okla., and New York.
Funeral services are planned for 11 a.m. on Feb. 16 at First United Methodist Church in El Dorado.
“She will be desperately missed,” Robert Nolan said.