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Redd Foxx
Redd Foxx 1966.JPG
Redd Foxx c.1966 age 43
Birth name John Elroy Sanford
Born (1922-12-09)December 9, 1922
St. Louis, Missouri, U.S.
Died October 11, 1991(1991-10-11) (aged 68)
Los Angeles, California, U.S.
Resting place Palm Eastern Cemetery, Las Vegas, Nevada
Nationality American
Education DuSable High School
  • Word play
  • observational comedy
  • black comedy
  • blue comedy
  • insult comedy
Evelyn Killebrew
(m. 1948; div. 1951)

Betty Jean Harris
(m. 1956; div. 1975)

Joi Yun Chi Chung
(m. 1976; div. 1981)

Kaho Cho
(m. 1991)

John Elroy Sanford (December 9, 1922 – October 11, 1991), better known by his stage name Redd Foxx, was an American stand-up comedian and actor. Foxx gained success with his raunchy nightclub act before and during the civil rights movement. Known as the "King of the Party Records", he performed on more than 50 records in his lifetime. He portrayed Fred G. Sanford on the television show Sanford and Son and starred in The Redd Foxx Show and The Royal Family.

In 2004, Foxx ranked 24th in Comedy Central Presents: 100 Greatest Stand-ups of All Time. Foxx not only influenced many comedians but was often portrayed in popular culture as well, mainly as a result of his catchphrases, body language and facial expressions exhibited on Sanford and Son. During the show's five-year run, Foxx won a Golden Globe Award and received an additional three nominations, along with three Primetime Emmy Award nominations. Foxx was posthumously given a star on the St. Louis Walk of Fame in 1992.

Early life

John Elroy Sanford was born on December 9, 1922, in St. Louis, Missouri, and raised in Chicago's South Side. His father, Fred Sanford, an electrician and auto mechanic from Hickman, Kentucky, left the family when Foxx was four years old. He was raised by his half-Seminole mother, Mary Hughes, from Ellisville, Mississippi, his grandmother and his minister. Foxx attended DuSable High School in Chicago's Bronzeville neighborhood with future Chicago mayor Harold Washington. Foxx had an older brother, Fred 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 befriended Malcolm Little, later known as Malcolm X, a fellow dishwasher at Jimmy's Chicken Shack in Harlem. Both men had reddish hair, so Sanford was called "Chicago Red" after his hometown and Malcolm was known as "Detroit Red". In Malcolm's autobiography, Foxx is referred to as "the funniest dishwasher on this earth." 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.


Nightclub act

Foxx's raunchy nightclub act proved successful. After performing on the East Coast, 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 one of the first black comics to play to white audiences on the Las Vegas Strip. He was signed to a long-term contract and released a series of comedy albums on half a dozen record labels that quickly became cult favorites.

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. Foxx played the role of Fred G. Sanford ("Fred Sanford" was actually Foxx's father's and brother's name), while co-star Demond Wilson played the role of his son Lamont. In this sitcom, Fred and Lamont were owners of a junk/salvage store in Watts, California, who dealt with many humorous situations. The series was notable for its racial humor and overt prejudices which helped redefine the genre of black situation comedy.

The series premiered on the NBC television network on January 14, 1972, and was broadcast for six seasons. In 1974, Foxx was sued for $10 million by Tandem Productions, producers of the show, for not showing up to start taping the new season. The final episode aired on March 25, 1977.

The show also had several running gags. When angry with Lamont, Fred 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). Fred would also complain about having "arthur-itis" to get out of working by showing Lamont his cramped hand. Foxx portrayed a character who was in his 60s, although in real life he was a decade younger.

Foxx used his starring role on Sanford and Son to help get jobs for acquaintances such as LaWanda Page, Slappy White, Gregory Sierra, Don Bexley, Beah Richards, Stymie Beard, Leroy Daniels, Ernest Mayhand and Noriyuki "Pat" Morita.

Wilson was asked whether he kept in touch with everybody from Sanford & Son, especially the series' star himself, after the series was canceled: "No. I saw Redd Foxx once before he died, circa 1983, and I never saw him again. At the time I was playing tennis at the Malibu Racquet Club and I was approached by some producers about doing a Redd Foxx 50th Anniversary Special. I hadn’t spoken to him since 1977, and I called the club where (Redd) was playing. And we met at Redd’s office, but he was less than affable. I told those guys it was a bad idea. I never had a cross word with him. People say I’m protective of Redd Foxx in my book (Second Banana, Wilson’s memoir of the "Sanford" years). I had no animosity toward Foxx [for quitting the show in 1977] because I had a million-dollar contract at CBS to do Baby... I'm Back!. My hurt was that he didn't come to me about throwing the towel in—I found out in the hallway at NBC from a newscaster. I forgave him and I loved Redd, but I never forgot that. The love was there. You can watch any episode and see that."

Post-Sanford and Son

Redd Foxx 1977
Redd Foxx in 1977

In 1977, Foxx left Sanford and Son after six seasons to star in a short-lived ABC variety show, resulting in the cancellation of the NBC series. In 1980 he was back playing Fred G. Sanford in a short-lived revival/spin-off, Sanford. In 1986, he returned to television in the ABC series The Redd Foxx Show, which was canceled after 12 episodes due to low ratings. Foxx appeared as an Obi-Wan Kenobi-like character in the Star Wars special of the Donny & Marie show. In an homage to his show, he mentioned the planet Sanford, which has no sun.

In 1989, Foxx was featured in the film Harlem Nights, written, directed, produced and starring Eddie Murphy.

Foxx made a comeback with the short-lived series The Royal Family, in which he co-starred with Della Reese.

At some point in the late 1970s and/or early 1980s, Foxx had a business on Sunset Boulevard in Hollywood where car owners could have their vehicles' roofs "velvetized"—a process that added a fuzzy, velvety texture to the brougham vinyl tops of some cars of that period. It was called "Redd Foxx’s Car Velvetizing."

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 were his divorces. Foxx spent over $150,000 awaiting his divorce from his second wife Betty Jean which included monthly support payments of $10,000 following their separation in 1974. He also was ordered to pay $2,500 a month while awaiting divorce from third wife Joi after their separation in 1979, and then paid her a $300,000 divorce settlement in 1981.

In 1983, he filed for bankruptcy with proceedings continuing at least through 1989. The IRS filed tax liens against Redd Foxx's property for income taxes he owed for the years 1983 to 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.

Personal life

Redd Foxx wed four times. His first marriage was to Evelyn Killebrew in 1948 and ended in divorce in 1951.

On July 5, 1956, Foxx married 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). They met at a nightclub where they were appearing on the same bill. As per their agreement, Harris gave up her career in show business to become a full-time housewife. Foxx adopted Harris's nine-year-old daughter Debraca, who assumed the surname "Foxx." Harris handled most of Foxx's business ventures such as Redd Foxx Enterprises, which included a chain of record stores in Los Angeles. The couple separated in 1974.

Foxx married his third wife Joi Yun Chi Chung at the Thunderbird Hotel in Las Vegas on December 31, 1976. Foxx met Joi, who was 20 years his junior, when she was a cocktail waitress at the Las Vegas Hilton, shortly after her arrival from Korea. Foxx filed for divorce in October 1979. The divorce was finalized in 1981.

In July 1991, Foxx wed Kaho Cho from Seoul, South Korea. They met at Bally's Hotel and Casino in Las Vegas. They were married at Little Church of the West in Las Vegas followed by a reception at the Hacienda Hotel.


On October 11, 1991, during a break from rehearsals for The Royal Family, Foxx suffered a heart attack on the set. He is buried at Palm Memorial Park (also known as Palm Eastern Cemetery) in Las Vegas. Foxx's mother Mary Sanford Carson (1903–1993) outlived her son by two years. She is buried beside him.


Comedian and actor Richard Pryor cited Redd Foxx as an influence. "He gave me inspiration and encouragement so I could be more me," Pryor told Ebony magazine in 1990. Comedian Chris Rock also 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 by retelling the jokes at school. Actor and comedian Jamie Foxx has stated that he chose his professional surname as a tribute to Foxx. Pat Morita also named Foxx as his mentor from his early days as a nightclub comedian.

Eddie Murphy has said that Redd Foxx is the most naturally funny person that he's encountered on Jimmy Kimmel Live


  • All the Fine Young Cannibals (1960) as Redd, Piano Player at Rose's (uncredited)
  • Cotton Comes to Harlem (1970) as Uncle Budd / Booker Washington Sims
  • Norman... Is That You? (1976) as Ben Chambers
  • Days of Heaven (1978) as Himself / Special Thanks
  • Harlem Nights (1989) as Bennie Wilson
  • Surely, You Jest (2019) as Himself (Posthumously - archive footage)
  • Dolemite Is My Name (2019) as Performer ("On the Loose") (Posthumously - archive footage)

TV shows

  • Sanford and Son (1972–77) as Fred G. Sanford
  • The Dean Martin Celebrity Roast(1974) as Himself
  • The Captain & Tennille Show (one episode) (1976) as Himself
  • The Redd Foxx Comedy Hour (1977–78) as Himself
  • HBO On Location with Redd Foxx (1978) as Himself
  • Sanford (1980–81) as Fred G. Sanford
  • Redd Foxx: Video in a Plain Brown Wrapper (1983) as Himself
  • Amos 'n' Andy: Anatomy of a Controversy (TV movie) (1983) as Himself / Special Thanks
  • Viva Shaf Vegas (1986) as Himself
  • The Redd Foxx Show (1986) as Al Hughes
  • Motown Merry Christmas (1987) as Himself / Various Skits
  • Ghost of a Chance (1987) as Ivory Clay
  • The Royal Family (1991) as Alfonso Royal
  • Redd Foxx: Say It Like It Is(January 11, 2000) as Himself (Posthumously - archive footage)
  • E! True Hollywood Story: Redd Foxx (2001) as Himself (Posthumously - archive footage)
  • Laugh Mobb Present - Episodes 3 & 4 (2012) as Himself / Special Thanks (Posthumously - archive footage)
  • Unsung Hollywood - Redd Foxx (2015) as Himself (Posthumously - archive footage)
  • History of Comedy (TV Series - Season 1, Episode 1) (2017) as Himself (Posthumously - archive footage)
  • Marvelous Mrs. Maisel (TV series - Season 1, Episode 4; Season 2, Episode 3) (2017–2018) as Himself/Writer (Posthumously - archive footage)

See also

Kids robot.svg In Spanish: Redd Foxx para niños

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