One of America’s most revered funnymen would have been 92 years old today
Redd Foxx was born John Elroy Sanford on December 9th, 1922, in St. Louis, Missouri and raised in the South Side of Chicago. Out on his own since he was 13 years old, and after a relationship with music, Redd made his way to New York City taking odd jobs like dishwasher for passenger rail road. It was there that he met Malcolm Little, before he found his faith and his mission as Malcolm X. He made such an impact that Malcolm later recalled their relationship in his autobiography, calling Sanford “Chicago Red [To Malcolm’s Detroit Red], the funniest dishwasher on this earth.”
Foxx began to craft entire comedic routines, honing his act on the “chitlin circuit,” and acting in Black theater productions. Upon the insistence of Dinah Washington, Foxx moved to Los Angeles and was “discovered” by Dootsie Williams, who caught his act at the Brass Rail nightclub. She signed him to Dooto records, where he released 50 comedy albums and amassed a considerable following. Though he received a paltry 25 dollars for that first recording, the exposure made him a name and Redd Foxx would go on to sell over 15 million records.
It was only a matter of time before Hollywood came calling. In 1989, he and long time friend Della Reese co-starred in Eddie Murphy’s film, “Harlem Nights.” Though the movie itself received little attention, critics took notice of the pairs performance. F
Foxx then made his feature film debut in the Blaxploitation classic, ‘Cotton Comes to Harlem.’ Legendary television producer Norman Lear took notice and gave him his very own NBC sitcom. In Sanford & Son, Redd Foxx played Fred G. Sanford, a cantankerous junk dealer from Watts who ran his garbage empire with the hopes of leaving it to his son Lamont (Demond Wilson). Fred Sanford was hysterical, from his bow- legged gait to his gravelly voice, his snap sessions with Aunt Ester, and the hilarious fake heart attacks where he announced to his dead wife that he was coming to join her. Redd Foxx owned that character in a way that few performers ever achieve.
Sanford & Son ran from January 14th, 1972 to March 25th, 1977. It was a ratings hit for NBC and made Redd Foxx a true star. The opening theme to the show, composed by Quincy Jones and entitled, “The Streetbeater,” is unmistakable. Many who enjoyed the sitcom found Fred’s voice, mannerisms, and antics funny as hell.
Years of lavish spending and poor money management got Foxx in hot water with the IRS. On November 28th of 1989, The IRS seized his Las Vegas home and all of his valuable possessions. In 1991, Eddie Murphy developed the CBS sitcom The Royal Family, in which Foxx costarred with Della Reese. The show debuted to good ratings. During rehearsals on October 11th, 1991, Redd Foxx collapsed from chest pains. His costars thought he was doing a rendition of his routine from Sanford & Son.
Unfortunately, this heart attack was real.
What Redd Foxx gave to the world cannot be easily measured. Though Richard Pryor is often cited as the most revolutionary and socially relevant comic of his time, he would not have existed without Redd Foxx. Redd made it okay to not only to use profanity on stage, but to tackle risqué subjects that weren’t considered suitable for polite company. He made you feel like you were sitting with him in his living room with a drink talking shit about the world. That’s not something that can be faked. Happy Birthday Redd Foxx. An American original.