December 9, 1922 – October 11, 1991
Redd was born John Elroy Sanford, in 1922. He ran away from home to join a street band, when he was 13. He went to New York after that, to get in to show business, and supported himself by washing dishes, while carving himself a place in the biz. He got his nickname from his hair color, and light skinnedness.
He really made a mark for himself, when he began using the foulest language onstage. I must say, I am not familiar with his comedy, but I am familiar with his costar from Sanford and Son, LaWanda Page (she played Aunt Esther), who is the most brilliantly vulgar person I have ever heard. One day I’ll get something of Redd’s, and give it a go.
He really hit the big time in 1972, when he was cast in the American version of the successful British sitcom, Steptoe and Son, renamed for the USA, Sanford and Son, after Redd’s birth name. He co-starred with the very dreamy Demond Wilson.
Another co-star was a man named Slappy White, who used to do the chitlin circuit with Redd back in the early 50s.
Redd’s trademark gag on the show was for him to feign a heart attack, whenever he wanted to guilt trip his son into doing something for him. He would clutch his chest and yell, “I’m coming Elizabeth!” referring to his directory wife. Don’t cry wolf, Foxx.
Redd made a fortune from the show, which left the air in 1977. He moved to Vegas, and blew most of it up his nose, and on expensive cars and lifestyle. Eventually it all caught up with him, and the IRS took everything they could.
By the end of the 80s, Redd was desperately looking for work, and Eddie Murphy had cast him in the film, Harlem Nights. The film didn’t do very well, but the critics agreed that Redd and his co-star Della Reese were great, and a couple of years later, CBS offered them a series, which Eddie produced. In 1991, they began work on a show which was tentatively titled Chest Pains. Wisely opting for another title, they chose The Royal Family.
Della Reese explains:
In July of 1991, Redd married Ka Ha Cho, who was in her 30s at the time. Mails in! She ran a shop selling Redd memorabilia. They lived for a few short months in this house,
Big thanks go to Findadeath.com friend Doris Hackett, for the great pictures. Thank you, Doris.
The show premiered on September 18, 1991. On Friday, October 11, 1991, Redd arrived at the studio for the day’s rehearsal. Redd suffered a heart attack. Everyone thought he was joking, and the cast and crew were laughing at him. Not for long. It became apparent that he wasn’t kidding, and an ambulance was called. Della Reese prayed over him and begged him, “Don’t die, Redd! Don’t die!” He was rushed to the Emergency Room
of Hollywood Presbyterian Hospital,
where he did indeed die, at 7:45 p.m. He was 68 years old.
His funeral was held in Las Vegas on the 15th, and attended by Colonel Tom Parker, Lola Falana, Della, who sang, and most everyone else, ‘ceptin for Demond, who is now a preacher.
Here’s Foxx in the Box! Thank you, Gary Sweeney for passing them and the Della interview with us.
He is buried in Palm Memorial Park, in Las Vegas.
Trivia: While digging through my files, I ran across this curious article from god knows what magazine, a million years ago. It’s about a Della’s Death Curse.
Great Lawanda Page/Fred Sanford scenes.
Rest in peace, you old fish eyed fool.
UPDATE February 2005, from Findadeath friend Pamela:
FYI: Regarding the movie Harlem Nights, very big in the black community, the movie was a tribute to the real kings of comedy. Eddie Murphy idolized Richard Pryor, and Richard Pryor idolized Redd Foxx. It’s interesting that they all did what Redd started called “blue comedy.”
Redd Foxx was doing it back in the 40s and never made much money because he was so foul. He rarely, if ever, appeared on any of the variety shows of the time because his act contained so much foul language. Richard Pryor took Redd’s formula and perfected it to the tune of millions, while Eddie Murphy did the same thing.
My dad was one of the first black photographers in SF in the 40s and 50s, during the west coast jazz era, and I’ve got tons of photos of a very young Redd Foxx, Sammy Davis Jr., Billie Holiday, Lena Horne, Mel Torme, Duke Ellington, Louis Armstrong, Joe Louis, among others. Tons of stuff that has never been published anywhere.
Anyway, my dad said that Redd Foxx was one of the funniest men on earth. You have got to listen to some of his comedy routines way, way, way before Sanford and Son. I’ll give you more info on some of the black performers that I know about as I see them.
Update February 2015: Thanks to Tanya Jo McFadden for spreading the Death Hag love!