Considered one of the greatest comics of his era, Redd Foxx (pictured) and his death at the age of 68 in 1991 left a huge void in the African-American entertainment landscape. Without a doubt, Foxx and his beloved sitcom “Sanford and Son” impacted fans — both young and old — who all enjoyed his brash and forward style of comedy. Working hard up until his unfortunate passing due to a heart attack on the set of a TV show, Foxx’s influence on other comics-turned-actors is apparent.
Born John Elroy Sanford in St. Louis, Foxx would eventually come of age in Chicago’s South Side neighborhood and also attended DuSable High School with future mayor Harold Washington. He was also an early associate of Malcolm X in the 1940s (then known as Malcolm Little) and was even referenced in the slain activist’s autobiography as “Chicago Red, the funniest dishwasher on this earth.”
Taking his funny man act on the road at the insistence of singer Dinah Washington, Foxx landed in Los Angeles and began working the club circuit. Dootone Records owner Dootsie Williams saw some of the bawdy comic’s act and signed Foxx to a long-term deal. From there, Foxx released a slew of comedy albums, which have since become classics among comic fans worldwide.
Watch highlights of Foxx’s funniest moments here:
Foxx was also a pioneer, becoming one of the first Black comics to play in front of a White audience on the famed Las Vegas Strip. Foxx’s most-notable achievement, however, remains the aforementioned NBC sitcom “Sanford and Son,” which aired for six seasons between 1972 and 1977. Playing the cranky old junkyard owner “Fred G. Sanford,” which was Foxx’s brother’s actual name, his sharp comic wit translated well with mainstream audiences. His banter with co-star Demond Wilson, who played Sanford’s son “Lamont,” was one of the show’s many highlights. Friends of Foxx from his comic days, such as LaWanda Page, also featured prominently in his popular program.
After “Sanford and Son” ended (reportedly due to him starring in a variety show), he would reprise the role in the sitcom “Sanford” in 1980. He would also get his own series, “The Redd Foxx Show,” in 1986, but it was canned after 12 episodes because of paltry ratings. In 1991, he joined the cast of “The Royal Family” alongside the late-Della Reese and appeared to be making a bit of a comeback before suffering cardiac arrest during a break in filming.
Watch Reese talk about Foxx’s experiences here:
Although he was plagued by tax troubles during the tail end of his life, Foxx remained dignified throughout the embarrassing ordeal of having the IRS seize his home and assets in Las Vegas where he resided. With the upswing in his career, many felt Foxx would regain his stride as one of the premier funnymen on the planet. Foxx influenced comic greats of today, such as Chris Rock and actor-comedian Jamie Foxx, who took the surname in tribute to his idol.
Redd Foxx’s legacy as a sharp-tongued, quick-witted comedian is solid and cannot be disputed. His comedy albums, blue language and all, are full of gut-busting anecdotes made more humorous due to his perfect comedic timing and gravelly voice. Few can claim the heights Foxx has achieved, and without his presence in the world, many African Americans who have enjoyed stand-up comedy and sitcom fame would have never been able to enjoy the fame they have.
Rest in peace, Redd Foxx.