Comedian, actor, and entertainer Redd Foxx was a trailblazing comic who left a lasting impression on some of today’s prominent Black comics. With his bawdy humor, exaggerated mannerisms, and a knack for storytelling, Foxx’s fame was well-deserved and hard-earned. The late, great funnyman was born on this day in 1922.
Born John Elroy Sanford in St. Louis to parents Fred, a mechanic, and Mary Hughes, Foxx would eventually come of age in Chicago’s South Side neighborhood, attending DuSable High School with the city’s future pioneering mayor Harold Washington. Foxx was also linked to civil rights leader and activist Malcolm X in the 1940s, when he was then-known as Malcolm Little. Foxx was mentioned in the slain activist’s autobiography as “Chicago Red, the funniest dishwasher on this earth.”
Foxx left home around the age of 13 to perform in a band, which led to his eventual ascent to the stage as a comedian. Working in the famed “Chitlin Circuit” of Black nightclubs in the 1940s and 1950s, Foxx flourished onstage even though his act was considered too racy at the time for White audiences.
Fame was elusive for Foxx, who got his stage name from co-workers at the New York restaurant he and Malcolm X both worked. Adding a “d” to the first part of his stage name and taking the Foxx name after baseball player Jimmy Foxx, a new identity was born during his vaudeville act with Slappy White.
After singer Dinah Washington had Foxx come out to Los Angeles to perform his act, the comic’s star began to rise swiftly. During his time, his routines were recorded and pressed to vinyl to what was known as “party records,” selling millions of copies during his recording tenure. In the 1960s, he would grace the stages as one of the first Black comics to perform along the Las Vegas Strip. An appearance on the “Today” show in 1964 solidified his place as an entertainer to watch.
Perhaps Foxx’s most-notable achievement, though, was his hit NBC sitcom “Sanford & Son,” which made its debut in 1972. Along with co-stars Demond Wilson, who played “Lamont” on the program, many of Foxx’s friends from the comic circuit joined the cast in recurring roles. Starring as the grumpy trash man, Foxx tickled funny bones and wowed viewers while setting the stage for future African-American stars to make a splash.
Foxx left the show in 1977 despite its immense popularity for the ABC network. A variety show known as “The Redd Foxx Comedy Hour” didn’t go well as planned. A 1980 revival of the Fred G. Sanford character, which was his older brother’s actual name, also failed to connected with audiences as well. Undaunted, Foxx returned to Vegas where he remained an in-demand fixture.
Foxx would return to television, joining Della Reese on the CBS sitcom, “The Royal Family.” Although he was battling legal issues and the like, it appeared that Foxx had found his stride again. However, tragedy struck after Foxx collapsed during a rehearsal of the show. Foxx was rushed to a Los Angeles hospital, where he later died of a heart attack.
Foxx has been a known influence for comedians Jamie Foxx, who took on his stage name to honor him. Chris Rock also cites Foxx as someone who inspired him to do comedy. White comedians, such as the late George Carlin and Lenny Bruce, also owe a debt to Foxx.
Although Foxx was gone far too soon, his legacy lives on in re-runs of “Sanford & Son” and the many party records he left behind that still remain untouchable in their quality.
Happy Birthday, Redd Foxx, and Rest In Powerful Peace!