More Votes Needed
|The Ultimate Comedy Collection
|The Best Party Fun
Features Multiple Comedians
|Gettin’ Down N’ Dirty
|Redd Foxx for President
|Very Best of Redd Foxx: Fugg It!!!
|The Best of Redd Foxx: Comedy Stew
|The Best of Redd Foxx
|Live & Dirty, Vol. 4
|Live & Dirty, Vol. 3
|Live & Funny, Vol. 1
|Live And Funny Vol.2
|The Best of Redd Foxx (Truck Stop)
|I Ain’t Lied Yet
|You Gotta Wash Your Ass
|Up Against The Wall
|On the Loose
|Live Las Vegas
|The Both Sides of Redd Foxx
Other Title: "The New Race Track"
|Laff Of The Party, Vol. 3
|Dirty Dirty Jokes
|On Location with Redd Foxx
|Live In Las Vegas
|Black and Blue: the Redd Foxx Story
Biography by Michael Seth Starr
|The Redd Foxx Encyclopedia of Black Humor
Co-written with Norma Miller
He had been kicking around for years, ever since he began his career as a street musician in St. Louis. Redd Foxx recalled, "I used to play on the corner for tips. I had a group called The Four Hep Cats. Then I sang with a group called the Five Bon-Bons. We picked the name because Bon-Bons were little chocolates."
Foxx, still John Sanford then, drifted to Newark in 1939 and spent a decade trying to break into show business. Along the way he took low paying jobs—and sometimes took to petty crime just to keep himself fed. He spent 5 days on Riker's Island for stealing a bottle of milk and 90 days for sneaking out of a New York restaurant without paying the bill.
Still trying to make it as a singer, Foxx cut some records in 1946, including "Let's Wiggle a Little Woogie," a smooth jazz vocal with no trace of the throaty gravel that would make him famous as a comic curmudgeon. Into the 50's he found steadier work in comedy, teaming up with Slappy White for a while, then going solo. The years of hard living had toughened him for stand-up. The gruff voiced comic grabbed the audience with risque stories, quickies and streetwise put-downs: "One out of every four people is a freak. So pick out three of your friends. If they all right, it's you!"
He was Redd Foxx now. Light-skinned, he had been nicknamed "Red" years earlier. He spelled his name with a "double d, double cross so it wouldn't be a color or an animal."
Dootsie Williams' small Dooto label released over two dozen Foxx albums in the mid and late 50's, "adults only" discs that rarely found their way into white record stores. Gradually Redd developed a crossover following, peppering his monologues with salty racial remarks: "It's not true that all Negroes carry knives—my uncle carried an ice pick for forty five years."
In 1958 Hugh Downs gave Foxx a break, booking him on "The Today Show." He turned up on a few sitcoms, including Mr. Ed, The Lucy Show and The Addams Family in the late 60's, as well as "The Flip Wilson Show." Meanwhile in stand-up he continued to issue disc after disc, tallying over 50 party records. He had his own Los Angeles nightclub. After appearing as a junk dealer in "Cotton Comes To Harlem," Redd was chosen for 1971's TV hit, "Sanford and Son."
The show seemed to be a black answer to "All in the Family." "All in the Family," was based on a British sitcom "Till Death Do Us Part," was about an irascible bigot. "Sanford and Son" was based on "Steptoe and Son," about an irascible old junk dealer with unchanging attitudes. At first there was a lot of social and racial humor. Foxx delivered reverse-racist zingers: "White woman? Don't mess around with them, boy." "Pop, this woman was about 90 years old." "Ain't nothin' uglier on earth than a 90 year old white woman."
Eventually the show became more of a character comedy, with Foxx as a lovable curmudgeon. Redd's old stand-up pals like Slappy White and LaWanda Page were added, making for a lively cast. The first sitcom since "Amos and Andy" to present, with good humor, realistic, earthy black characters, it was soon the target of criticism. Some blacks complained the series focused on "low class" slum blacks and that Foxx's rascally, cantankerous junkman character was a poor role model.
An editorial by Don Carle Gillette in Variety, in January 1976, complained that Foxx's show "is no more complimentary to the blacks than the burnt-cork 'Amos 'n' Andy…' Contending that blacks will accept caricatures of blacks from their own race, but not from whites, seems a rather flimsy explanation…"
Actually the funniest running gag on the show had nothing to do with race: it was Foxx feigning a heart attack whenever backed into a corner by the sitcom plotting. "I'm comin' Elizabeth," he'd shout toward heaven and his departed wife, "it won't be long now!"
To Foxx, every line on the show had to ring true. It had to reflect real characters, even if they were exagerrated for comic effect. He questioned the show's writers, who at first were mostly white, and insisted on changing his own lines and jokes. At a big conference, an executive asked what the star's qualifications were for judging scripts. Foxx answered, "I've been black longer than anybody here."
Despite the murky undercurrent of stereotyping, "Sanford and Son" became a hit for both black and white viewers, and made Redd Foxx a giant star. This produced a giant ego—a natural response given his bitterness at having to wait thirty years for his break. Foxx made headlines regularly—for marriages, divorces and demands for respect. He fought for a nicer dressing room and a golf cart to ride to and from the set. He complained bitterly when he didn't get his own TV special, or when he was passed over for an Emmy: "You work for a lifetime in a business that you love, and I love it like a woman, so it hurts when it treats you this way."
The unhappy star left "Sanford and Son" for the glory of his own variety series, "The Redd Foxx Show." It was a crushing failure. So was his debut as a movie star, "Norman Is That You?" Foxx tried to make a sitcom comeback with "Sanford," minus the son. It flopped. Considered not only a difficult personality but a three-time loser (after two TV bombs and a movie failure), Foxx returned to risque comedy in nightclubs. Troubles followed. Foxx dropped $300,000 to settle his 1981 divorce from his third wife and in 1983 went bankrupt. "Material things don't mean so much," the aging star said. "You don't have that long left to enjoy them. I'd just like some peace of mind." Even his 80 year-old father couldn't get out of life in peace. He died of a gun shot wound to the chest—he shot himself, evidently by accident in the hallway of his apartment.
After a few years, the one-time star was chastened. The man whose manager would angrily refuse interviews (unless Foxx was paid for them) now sought out interview opportunities. In 1986 he turned up on an ESPN boxing show pleading for another chance to revive "Sanford and Son." In a dissipated, hoarse voice he said, "Other shows have come back. I don't understand why they can't bring back "Sanford and Son." I'd love to come back and do Sanford." He was even willing to work again with co-star Demond Wilson. He hadn't seen Wilson much since the young performer quit show business to become a preacher: "We don't keep in touch no more 'cause he knows I don't wanna hear it."
Trying to duplicate Jackie Mason's success, Foxx came to Broadway in 1987 with guests Slappy White and La Wanda Page. Many first-nighters walked out before it was over. The New York Times called Foxx "pathetically unprepared," his act "rooted in angry self-disgust and physical loathing…unintelligble" and "mercifully brief." In 1989 the I.R.S. raided his home in Las Vegas and seized his property, ready to auction it off if he failed to pay a huge tax debt. He claimed he was "whitelisted," not blacklisted—"nobody black hurt me…There have got to be some whites in town that owe taxes. Why don't they go to their houses and tear it up and throw stuff all around the floor?" People magazine reported that after Foxx went public with his problems, he raised only $293 from friends and fans. Most were wondering what he'd done with the $500,000 he made from his last film, "Harlem Nights." In July of 1990 the I.R.S. started their auction, selling eight of his cars for about $50,000. They kept going. They claimed he owed them nearly three million dollars in taxes and penalties. In the summer of 1991 Foxx married for the fourth time and in the fall he attempted a comeback with a new sitcom, "Royal Family." The show was a "family comedy," which meant he had to tone down his grouchy persona and invent a epithet, the quickly grumbled, "mother-father!"
Asked if he had any advice for young people about to embark on a show business career he said, "Go to school and finish college and your life will be much better. You won't have to go through the stuf I've been through." Asked about his hectic schedule at age 68, he admitted, "When you work ten to twelve hours every day it's rough…it's rough for me now at my age." While on the set, rehearsing a script, Foxx suffered a heart attack and died in the hospital just a few hours later.