John 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 nightclub act during the 1950s and 1960s (considered by the standards of the time to be raunchy). 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 friends such as LaWanda Page, Slappy White, Gregory Sierra, Don Bexley, Beah Richards, Stymie Beard, Leroy Daniels, Ernest Mayhand and Noriyuki “Pat” Morita.
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.
In 1977, Foxx left Sanford and Son, after six seasons (the show was canceled with his departure) to star in a short-lived 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 Foxx 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 his long-time friend Della Reese.
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.”
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 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.
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 (1903–1993), outlived Foxx and died nearly 17 months later, in 1993. She was buried just to the right of her famed son.