We continue Black Comedians week with Redd Foxx.
John Elroy Sanford (December 9, 1922 – October 11, 1991), known professionally as Redd Foxx, was an American comedian and actor, best remembered for his explicit comedy records and his starring role on the 1970s sitcom Sanford and Son.
Foxx gained notoriety with his raunchy nightclub acts during the 1950s and 1960s. Known as the “King of the Party Records”, he performed on more than 50 records in his lifetime. He also starred in Sanford, The Redd Foxx Show and The Royal Family. His film roles included All the Fine Young Cannibals (1960) and Harlem Nights (1989).
In 2004, Comedy Central Presents: 100 Greatest Stand-ups of All Time ranked Foxx as the 24th best stand-up comedian. Foxx not only influenced many comedians, but was often portrayed in popular culture as well, mainly as a result of his famous catchphrases, body language and facial expressions exhibited on Sanford and Son.
Foxx gained notoriety with his raunchy nightclub act during the 1950s and 1960s. His big break came after singer Dinah Washington insisted that he come to Los Angeles, where Dootsie Williams of Dootone records caught his act at the Brass Rail nightclub. Foxx was signed to a long-term contract and released a series of comedy albums that quickly became cult favorites.
Known as the “King of the party records,” Foxx performed on over 50 records in his lifetime.
He was also one of the first black comics to play to white audiences on the Las Vegas Strip. He used his starring role on Sanford and Son to help get jobs for his friends such as LaWanda Page, Slappy White, Gregory Sierra, Don Bexley, Beah Richards, Stymie Beard, Leroy Daniels, Ernest Mayhand and Noriyuki “Pat” Morita.
Sanford and Son
Foxx achieved his most widespread fame starring in the television sitcom, Sanford and Son, an adaptation of the BBC series, Steptoe and Son. The series premiered on the NBC television network on January 14, 1972 and was broadcast for six seasons. The final episode aired on March 25, 1977.
Foxx played the role of Fred G. Sanford (“Fred Sanford” was actually Foxx’s father’s name), while Foxx’s co-star Demond Wilson played the role of his son Lamont. In this sitcom, Fred and Lamont were owners of a junk/salvage store who dealt with many humorous situations that would arise. The series was notable for its racial humor and overt prejudices which helped redefine the genre of black situation comedy.
The show also had several running gags. When angry with Lamont (Demond Wilson), Fred (Redd Foxx) would often say “You big dummy” or would often fake heart attacks by putting his hand on his chest and saying (usually while looking up at the sky) “It’s the big one, I’m coming to join ya honey/Elizabeth” (referring to his late wife Elizabeth). Fred would also complain about having arthritis to get out of working by showing Lamont his cramped hand. Foxx depicted a character in his 60s, although in real life he was younger.
These are among my favorite Sanford and Son episodes:
Fred helps when Lamont is taken for a ride by card sharks
Fred has a visit from – Lena Horne
Post-Sanford and Son career
In 1977, Foxx left Sanford and Son, after six seasons (the show was canceled with his departure) to star in a short-lived variety show. By 1980 he was back playing Fred G. Sanford in a brief revival/spin-off, Sanford. In 1986, he returned to television in the ABC series The Redd Foxx Show, which was cancelled after 12 episodes because of low ratings.
Foxx made a comeback with the series The Royal Family, in which he co-starred with his long-time friend Della Reese.
On October 11, 1991, during a break from rehearsals for The Royal Family, he suffered a heart attack on the set. According to Joshua Rich at Entertainment Weekly, “It was an end so ironic that for a brief moment cast mates figured Foxx — whose 70s TV character often faked heart attacks — was kidding when he grabbed a chair and fell to the floor.” Foxx was taken to Queen Of Angels Hollywood Presbyterian Medical Center, where he died that evening.
Foxx was posthumously given a star on the St. Louis Walk of Fame on May 17, 1992.
Foxx is buried in Las Vegas, at Palm Valley View Memorial Park. His mother, Mary Carson (1903–1993), outlived Foxx and died nearly 17 months later, in 1993. She was buried just to the right of her famed son.