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Redd Foxx, Star of TV’s ‘Sanford and Son,’ Dies at 68

October 12, 1991 GMT

LOS ANGELES (AP) _ Redd Foxx, who died after collapsing during a rehearsal of his new sitcom, was back in the spotlight after a 50-year career of peaks and valleys from Harlem to vaudeville to Vegas to Hollywood.

The 68-year-old Foxx suffered a heart attack Friday on the set of CBS’ ″The Royal Family″ at Paramount Studios, said Prince Spencer, his manager.

He died a short time later at Queen of Angels Hollywood Presbyterian Medical Center surrounded by family and friends, including Slappy White, his comedy partner in his early years.

Foxx married his fourth wife in July. Ka Ha Cho, who’s in her 30s, runs a store that features Foxx memorabilia.

Foxx’s role as irascible junk peddler Fred Sanford on the old NBC-TV situation comedy ″Sanford and Son″ brought the bowlegged, raspy-voiced comedian national fame.

Whenever his long-suffering son, Lamont, played by Demond Wilson, threatened to leave, Sanford would feign a heart attack and call out to his late wife, Elizabeth, that he was coming to join her.

He was one of the first ″blue″ comics to make a breakthrough into television. Over the years he toned down the raunchy humor of his early nightclub act, in which he would hold a lighted cigarette and offer leering sexual innuendos.

″Redd Foxx was blessed with the ability to make people laugh and audiences everywhere loved him for it,″ said Brandon Tartikoff, chairman of Paramount Pictures Corp.

Although he made millions from ″Sanford and Son,″ which ran from 1972 to 1977, Foxx encountered serious financial troubles. He was an extravagant spender who once owned a fleet of fancy cars. He filed for Chapter 11 bankruptcy protection in February 1983, citing mounting debts and tax problems.

In December 1989, the Internal Revenue Service, claiming Foxx owned $2.9 million in back taxes, penalties and interest, raided his Las Vegas home and stripped it of many items.

He was a frequent Vegas headliner before he started work on ″The Royal Family.″ The show, which made its premiere this fall, had Foxx playing a retiree forced to take in his grown daughter and her three children.

Co-star Della Reese, who met Foxx more than 30 years ago when they were both performers in midwestern clubs, said in a recent interview that Foxx was a master of playful bickering, called ″capping.″


Born John Elroy Sanford on Dec. 9, 1922, in St. Louis, Foxx began performing as a child on a washtub bass. He ran away from home at age 13 to join a street band, then began working as a comic in the 1940s.

He was a dishwasher and slept under newspapers in Harlem while pursuing his career. At one point, he spent 95 days in jail for theft of food, although the charges were dropped.

It was in Harlem that Foxx got the name ″Red″ because of his hair color and light skin. He added another ″d″ later.

He was called ″Chicago Red″ to differentiate him from his friend ″Detroit Red,″ the young Malcolm X, who wrote in his autobiography that Foxx ″was the funniest dishwasher on Earth.″

Foxx went on to play the famed Apollo Theater in Harlem and other black vaudeville venues on the ″Chitlin’ Circuit.″ He worked with Slappy White from 1951 to 1956.

″He was like my right hand,″ said White, 70. ″He’s going to be missed a great deal because he was pretty creative. The comedy world is going to miss him. He broke a lot of barriers.″

He broke into television in the 1960s, and later made movies like ″Cotton Comes to Harlem″ and ″Harlem Nights.″

Reese said Eddie Murphy got the idea for ″The Royal Family″ after listening to Foxx’s quick barbs on the set of ″Harlem Nights.″

Foxx’s 50 albums - many of them risque, underground ″party records″ - have sold 20 million copies.

Bob Hope, who performed with Foxx in Vietnam in the late 1960s, called Foxx ″a natural comedian,″ and said: ″The world will miss comics like him, you know.″