Jon Elroy Sanford (December 9, 1922 - October 11, 1991), known professionally as Redd Foxx, was an American comedian and actor, best remembered for his explicit comedy records and his starring role on the 1970s sitcom Sanford and Son.
Foxx gained notoriety with his raunchy nightclub acts during the 1950s and 1960s. Known as the "King of the Party Records", he performed on more than 50 records in his lifetime. He also starred in Sanford, The Redd Foxx Show and The Royal Family. His film roles included All the Fine Young Cannibals (1960) and Harlem Nights (1989).
In 2004, Comedy Central Presents: 100 Greatest Stand-ups of All Time ranked Foxx as the 24th best stand-up comedian. Foxx not only influenced many comedians, but was often portrayed in popular culture as well, mainly as a result of his famous catchphrases, body language and facial expressions exhibited on Sanford and Son.
Foxx was born in St. Louis, Missouri and raised on Chicago's South Side. His father, Fred Sanford, an electrician and auto mechanic from Hickman, Kentucky, left his family when Foxx was four years old. He was raised by his half-Seminole Indian mother, Mary Hughes from Ellisville, Mississippi, his grandmother and his minister. He attended DuSable High School with future Chicago mayor Harold Washington. Foxx had an older brother, Fred G. Sanford Jr., who provided the name for his character on "Sanford and Son".
On July 27, 1939, Foxx performed on the Major Bowes Amateur Hour radio show as part of the Jump Swinging Six.
In the 1940s, he was an associate of Malcolm Little, later known as Malcolm X. In Malcolm's autobiography, Foxx is referred to as "Chicago Red, the funniest dishwasher on this earth." He earned the nickname because of his reddish hair and complexion. His surname was taken from baseball star Jimmie Foxx.
During World War II, Foxx dodged the draft by eating half a bar of soap before his physical, a trick that resulted in heart palpitations.
On September 30, 1946, Foxx recorded five songs for the Savoy label under the direction of Teddy Reig.
Foxx gained notoriety with his raunchy nightclub act during the 1950s, 60s, and 70s with Elvis Presley on the same marquee. His big break came after singer Dinah Washington insisted that he come to Los Angeles, where Dootsie Williams of Dootone records caught his act at the Brass Rail nightclub. Foxx was signed to a long-term contract and released a series of comedy albums that quickly became cult favorites.
Known as the "King of the party records," Foxx performed on over 50 records in his lifetime.
He was also one of the first black comics to play to white audiences on the Las Vegas Strip. He used his starring role on Sanford and Son to help get jobs for his acquaintances such as LaWanda Page, Slappy White, Gregory Sierra, Don Bexley, Beah Richards, Stymie Beard, Leroy Daniels, Ernest Mayhand and Noriyuki "Pat" Morita.
Sanford and Son:
Foxx achieved his most widespread fame starring in the television sitcom Sanford and Son, an adaptation of the BBC series Steptoe and Son. The series premiered on the NBC television network on January 14, 1972 and was broadcast for six seasons. The final episode aired on March 25, 1977.
Foxx played the role of Fred G. Sanford ("Fred Sanford" was actually Foxx's father's name), while Foxx's co-star Demond Wilson played the role of his son Lamont. In this sitcom, Fred and Lamont were owners of a junk/salvage store who dealt with many humorous situations that would arise. The series was notable for its racial humor and overt prejudices which helped redefine the genre of black situation comedy.
The show also had several running gags. When angry with Lamont (Demond Wilson), Fred (Redd Foxx) would often say "You big dummy" or would often fake heart attacks by putting his hand on his chest and saying (usually while looking up at the sky) "It's the big one, I'm coming to join ya honey/Elizabeth" (referring to his late wife Elizabeth). Fred would also complain about having arthritis to get out of working by showing Lamont his cramped hand. Foxx depicted a character in his 60s, although in real life he was younger.
Post-Sanford and Son career:
In 1977, Foxx left Sanford and Son, after six seasons (the show was canceled with his departure) to star in a short-lived ABC variety show. By 1980 he was back playing Fred G. Sanford in a brief revival/spin-off, Sanford. In 1986, he returned to television in the ABC series The Redd Fox Show, which was cancelled after 12 episodes because of low ratings.
Foxx made a comeback with the series The Royal Family, in which he co-starred with Della Reese.
Harlem Nights was Foxx's last film before his death and starred Richard Pryor and Eddie Murphy.
Redd Foxx was married four times. His first marriage was to Evelyn Killebrew in 1948 and ended in divorce in 1951.
His second marriage in 1956 was to Betty Jean Harris, a showgirl and dancer, who was a colleague of LaWanda Page (later to be Foxx's TV rival Aunt Esther on Sanford and Son). Foxx adopted Harris's nine-year-old daughter Debraca, who assumed the surname "Foxx". This marriage ended in divorce in 1975.
Foxx next wed Korean-American Yun Chi Chung in 1976, but the marriage ended in 1981.
At the time of his death, Foxx was married to Ka Ho Cho, who used the name Ka Ho Foxx.
Financial and tax problems:
According to People Magazine, "Foxx reportedly once earned $4 million in a single year, but depleted his fortune with a lavish lifestyle, exacerbated by what he called 'very bad management.'" Contributing to his problems was a 1981 divorce settlement of $300,000 paid to his third wife. In 1983 he filed for bankruptcy, with proceedings continued at least through 1989.
The IRS filed tax liens against Redd Foxx's property for income taxes he owed for the years 1983 through 1986 totaling $755,166.21. On November 28, 1989, the IRS seized his home in Las Vegas and seven vehicles (including a 1927 Model T, a 1975 Panther J72, a 1983 Zimmer, and a Vespa motor scooter) to pay the taxes which by then had grown to $996,630, including penalties and interest. Agents also seized "$12,769 in cash and a dozen guns, including a semiautomatic pistol," among some 300 items in total, reportedly leaving only Foxx's bed. Foxx stated that the IRS "took my necklace and the ID bracelet off my wrist and the money out of my pocket . . . I was treated like I wasn't human at all."
It has been reported that, at the time of his death in 1991, Foxx owed more than $3.6 million in taxes.
On October 11, 1991, during a break from rehearsals for The Royal Family, he suffered a heart attack on the set. According to Della Reese, Foxx was about to have been interviewed by Lifestyles of the Rich and Famous; when she leaned down to Foxx as he was on the ground, Foxx said, "Get my wife" repeatedly. According to Joshua Rich at Entertainment Weekly, "It was an end so ironic that for a brief moment cast mates figured Foxx -- whose 70s TV character often faked heart attacks -- was kidding when he grabbed a chair and fell to the floor." Foxx was taken to Queen Of Angels Hollywood Presbyterian Medical Center, where he died that evening at the age of 68.
Foxx was posthumously given a star on the St. Louis Walk of Fame on May 17, 1992.
Foxx is buried in Las Vegas, at Palm Valley View Memorial Park. His mother, Mary Carson (1899-1993), outlived Foxx and died nearly 17 months later, in 1993. She was buried just to the right of her famed son.
Comedian Chris Rock cites Redd Foxx as an influence. An episode of his show Everybody Hates Chris shows young Chris Rock overhearing his parents' Redd Foxx albums and getting started doing stand-up through retelling the jokes at school.
Actor Jamie Foxx chose the Foxx surname as part of his stage name in tribute to Redd Foxx.
Comedian and actor Richard Pryor also cited Redd Foxx as an influence. Pryor appeared onscreen with Foxx, in Eddie Murphy's 'Harlem Nights'.
Portrayals of Foxx in popular media:
In the first season of In Living Color, in reference to Foxx's financial troubles, Foxx was portrayed by Damon Wayans, who is making a public service announcement to encourage people to pay their taxes.
In the film Why Do Fools Fall in Love, Foxx is portrayed by Aries Spears. He is shown performing a stand-up comedy routine.
In the animated television series Family Guy parody of Star Wars episode "Blue Harvest", Redd Foxx appears very briefly as an X-wing pilot. When his ship is shot down, he cries "I'm coming Elizabeth!" before dying. In addition to this, he has been parodied on Family Guy by Francis Griffin acting as Foxx's Sanford and Son character.
Foxx was meant to be featured in the MTV show Celebrity Deathmatch, advertised as taking on Jamie Foxx in the episode "When Animals Attack". Instead of Redd Foxx though, Jamie Foxx fought Ray Charles.
In the Boondocks episode "Stinkmeaner 3: The Hateocracy" he is portrayed as Lord Rufus Crabmiser, one of Stinkmeaner's old friends coming to kill the Freeman family. Childhood friend and Sanford & Son co-star Lawanda Page is also portrayed in the same episode as Lady Esmeralda Gripenasty.
Redd Foxx appears as a minor character in the 2009 James Ellroy novel Blood's a Rover. He gives a bawdy eulogy at the wake of Scotty Bennett, a murdered rogue LAPD detective including the line "Scotty Bennett was fucking a porcupine. I gots to tell you motherfuckers that it was a female porcupine, so I don't see nothing perverted in it."
All the Fine Young Cannibals (1960),
Cotton Comes to Harlem (1970),
Norman... Is That You? (1976),
Harlem Nights (1989),
Sanford and Son (1972-77),
The Redd Foxx Comedy Hour (1977-78),
HBO On Location with Redd Foxx (1978),
Viva Shaf Vegas (1986),
The Redd Foxx Show (1986),
Ghost of a Chance (1987),
The Royal Family (1991)
Text from this biography licensed under creative commons license