Redd Foxx, born on December 9, 1922, was the comedian to watch in the ‘80s and ‘90s. His career began as a struggling performer, and he got a break due to his different style of making people laugh. He attracted attention again when he was cast in the uber-successful American television show “Sanford and Son,” where he played the lead role of Fred Sanford. He followed this up with different short-lived television stints, unfortunately not coming close to the success of his previous hit. He made a comeback to T.V. in 1991, only to pass away on set. He was 68 at the time.
John Elroy Sanford was born in Missouri and raised on Chicago’s South Side. Raised by a single mom — his dad left when he was only four — he and his older brother had only their mom, grandmom, and minister as major influences growing up. Then came the draft for World War II, which he dodged by faking heart palpitations. He spent the duration of the war in Baltimore, acting as the master of ceremonies at a club named Gamby’s. He moved to New York to try his luck as a stand-up comedian, adopting the stage name Redd Foxx.
His star began rising in the 1940s. His comedy act was featured in many African American nightclubs and by the 1960s, was immensely popular among African Americans. This racy act got him his next big break — American singer and pianist Dinah Washington insisted he perform in Los Angeles too. He became one of the first Black comedians to play to a white audience on the Las Vegas Strip. He soon signed a contract, releasing multiple comedy albums to widespread success.
Foxx was soon approached to star in the upcoming sitcom “Sanford and Son,” a move that would launch him into stardom. Foxx played Fred Standford, a name he borrowed from his brother, in the sitcom, and this father-son comedy soon became a massive success. Foxx won a Golden Globe Award and was nominated thrice for a Primetime Emmy Award for his portrayal of the patriarch during the show’s five-year run. A dispute with the producers saw him quit the show in 1977, however, after which he starred in various short-lived television comedy sketches.
The twilight era of his career saw Foxx star in movies like “Harlem Nights,” but he was primarily a Las Vegas headliner. It was only in 1991 that his television career launched again, in a new sitcom “The Royal Family.” Foxx, unfortunately, passed away during the shooting, when he was only 68 years old. By the time of his death, he had lost almost all his earnings amassed during his decades as a performer and comedian and had even declared bankruptcy. He was married to his fourth wife, Ka Ho Cho, at the time of his death.
His legacy and comedy have inspired many since then, and his acts have been replayed by famous comedians and shows multiple times over the years.
He plays to primarily African American audiences during this time and becomes immensely popular.
The American neo-noir action comedy thriller also features a performance by Foxx, which garners the attention of T.V. executives.
American television producer Norman Lear approaches Foxx about starring as Fred Sanford in "Sanford and Son," a remake of the British sitcom "Steptoe and Son;" the show becomes a huge hit.
Foxx has a disagreement with the producers of the show "Sanford and Son," and quits before the sixth season.
"The Redd Foxx Show" runs for 12 episodes but gets canceled due to low ratings.
Foxx acts in the Murphy-directed "Harlem Nights."
He begins shooting a new sitcom, "The Royal Family," but passes away while shooting the series.
Foxx is number 24 on Comedy Central’s "Comedy Central Presents: 100 Greatest Stand-ups of All Time."
Why We Love Redd Foxx
He is a big-time influence
Foxx has impacted the lives of many present-day comedians, including Richard Pryor, Chris Rock, and Pat Morita. Some have even said Foxx's act helped them be more real.
He was authentic
His raw, pithy commentary on life and social class at the time was sometimes judged as too raunchy. However, his success — and 50 records — prove his worth.
He even influenced pop culture
Foxx's mannerisms, catchphrases, and comedy act, especially from "Sanford and Son," were immortalized in future comedy sketches, shows, and even movies. His influence can still be seen.
5 Surprising Facts
He was “King of the Party Records”
Because in his lifetime, he'd performed on more than 50 party records.
A posthumous award
Foxx was given a star on the St. Louis Walk of Fame in 1922, a year after his death.
Eddie Murphy paid for his funeral
Murphy said he and Foxx shared a close relationship, which led to him paying for Foxx's funeral as the latter had fallen on hard times toward the end of his life.
Becoming Jamie Foxx
Eric Marlon Bishop chose his stage name — Jamie Foxx — as a tribute to Foxx.
He was Malcolm X's friend
Prominent civil rights activist Malcolm X met Foxx at Jimmy's Chicken Shack in Harlem, when they were both dishwashers; Foxx even appeared in Malcolm X's autobiography, where he is referred to as Chicago Red, the funniest dishwasher on this Earth.
Redd Foxx FAQs
Did Redd Foxx die on set?
Yes, Red Foxx did indeed pass away doing what he loved best — making people laugh.
Was Redd Foxx a veteran?
Foxx was turned down by the Army and spent the years during the Second World War perfecting his comedy act.
What was Redd Foxx's cause of death?
Foxx died of natural causes, which doctors determined was a heart attack.
Redd Foxx’s birthday dates