Denise Nicholas (born Donna Denise Nicholas; July 12, 1944 or 1945) is an American actress and social activist who was involved in the American Civil Rights Movement. She is known primarily for her role as high school guidance counselor Liz McIntyre on the ABC comedy-drama series Room 222, and for her role as Councilwoman Harriet DeLong on the NBC/CBS drama series In the Heat of the Night.
Nicholas was born in Detroit, Michigan, the daughter of Louise Carolyn and Otto Nicholas. She spent her early years in Detroit. With the remarriage of her mother to Robert Burgen, she then moved to Milan, Michigan, a small town south of Ann Arbor, graduating from Milan High School, in 1961. Nicholas is the middle child of three, an older brother, Otto, and a younger sister, Michele, now deceased. She attended the University of Michigan for two years then joined the Free Southern Theater, during the turbulent days of the civil rights movement. After spending two years touring the deep south with the FST, Nicholas went to New York and joined the Negro Ensemble Company participating in its rigorous training program and working in all productions during the first season of that acclaimed theater ensemble. From the stage of the St. Marks Playhouse in New York, Nicholas was cast as, "Liz McIntyre," the Guidance Counselor on the soon to be very popular and innovative ABC series, "Room 222." Nicholas received her BA in Drama, from the University of Southern California, after living in Southern California for a number of years.
Nicholas began her television acting career in 1968, with an episode of It Takes a Thief. She has since appeared in many popular movies and television shows. She is probably best known for her role as, "Liz McIntyre," on the show Room 222 (1969-1974), as well as her role as, "Harriet DeLong," on In the Heat of the Night (1988-1994). Nicholas wrote six episodes of the dramatic show, "In the Heat of the Night," and thus began her second career as a writer. When that show was cancelled, she enrolled in the Professional Writing Program at the University of Southern California, eventually finding her way to the Journeymen's Writing Workshop under the tutelage of author Janet Fitch. She worked with Fitch for five years. Nicholas also attended the Squaw Valley Community of Writers Workshop, and the Natalie Goldberg Workshop, in Taos, New Mexico.