Redd Foxx

Actor & Comedian

“Certain things should be yours to have when you work your way to the top.”

Redd Foxx was the stage name of John Elroy Sanford, an American comedian and actor best known for his role on the 1970s sitcom Sanford and Son.

Early Life

Born John Elroy Sanford on December 9, 1922, in St. Louis, Missouri, African American comedian Redd Foxx achieved stardom with the hit 1970s sitcom Sanford and Son. He grew up in poverty. His father abandoned the family when Foxx was a young child. His mother was left to raise him and his older brother Fred on her own. Around the age of seven, Foxx discovered his knack for telling jokes.

Redd Foxx

Foxx never had much interest in school. According to the Los Angeles Times, he once said that “School meant nothing to me. Knowing that George Washington crossed the Delaware – how was that going to help me in a brick fight in St. Louis?” Foxx left home at the age of 13 to perform with a band. About four years later, he played with a group called the Bon Bons in Chicago.

Struggling to get by, Foxx worked a number of jobs. He spent some time in New York City's Harlem neighborhood. During this time, he met Malcolm X (then known as Malcolm Little). Malcolm called Foxx “the funniest dishwasher on this earth,” according to Foxx's official website. The pair became friends and shared a similar ruddy complex. Malcolm was called as “Detroit Red” and Foxx was “Chicago Red” by their coworkers in the restaurant where they worked.


Stand-Up Comedian

In 1941, Foxx and longtime friend Slappy White joined forces to perform a comedy routine in the black vaudeville circuit (also called the chitlin circuit).

He became a successful stand-up comedian known for his willingness to tackle controversial topics such as race and sex. Adding an extra “d” to his nickname and borrowing the last name of professional baseball player Jimmie Foxx, he started working as Redd Foxx.

Foxx did well performing at African American clubs for years. In the mid-1950s, he began recording his routines on what were sold as “party records.” Foxx ended up selling more than 20 million copies of these albums over the years.

In the 1960s, he enjoyed great popularity in Las Vegas as a nightclub act. Foxx made his first television appearance in 1964 on the Today show.


TV Sitcom Star

In 1972, Foxx made his debut as a series regular on the NBC sitcom Sanford and Son. He starred as Fred Sanford (named after his real-life brother), a grumpy junk dealer in Watts, California. Demond Wilson played Sanford's son Lamont. The show soon became a hit with television audiences.

Redd Foxx

Sanford and Son was also one of the few programs to feature an African American family, making it groundbreaking for its time. According to the Los Angeles Times, Foxx said “The show is lighthearted, doesn't drive home a lesson, but it can open up peoples’ minds enough for them to see how stupid every kind of prejudice can be.”

After five years, Foxx left NBC for ABC. He starred in The Redd Foxx Comedy Hour, which didn't last for long. Foxx tried to capitalize on his earlier success, reprising the role of Fred Sanford in Sanford in 1980. But the sitcom failed to catch on with audiences. Despite the decline of his television career, Foxx remained a popular live act, especially in Las Vegas.


Death and Legacy

Foxx spent his later years trying to cope with financial problems. In 1983, he filed for bankruptcy. Foxx's career got a boost from his appearance in the 1989 film Harlem Nights with Richard Pryor Eddie Murphy. Unfortunately, the Internal Revenue Service seized some of his personal property that same year to recoup money owed by Foxx for taxes.

Still Foxx seemed to be on an upswing by the early 1990s. He landed a new sitcom called The Royal Family with Della Reese, which debuted in the fall of 1991. Foxx was working an episode of his series when he collapsed during a rehearsal on October 11, 1991. He was taken to a Los Angeles hospital where he later died. A heart attack was his cause of death. Foxx was 68 years old.

While best remembered for Sanford and Son, Foxx also helped pave the way for such risqué comedians as George Carlin and Lenny Bruce with his boundary-pushing stand-up comedy.


Quick Facts

Birth Date:
December 9, 1922

Death Date:
October 11, 1991


  • He ate half a bar of soap prior to his physical for the World War II draft which resulted in heart palpitations.
  • Comedian Chris Rock often says that he was influenced by Redd's comedy.
  • He starred in the sitcom Sanford and Son with composer Quincy Jones.
  • Was the only artist to be invited to Elvis Presley's wedding at the Aladdin Hotel in Las Vegas, on May 1, 1967.
  • Appeared on The Arsenio Hall Show (1989) on October 9, 1991, just two days before his death.
  • Redd Foxx
  • Redd Foxx
  • Redd Foxx

Similar Entries

Dick Gregory Arts

Dick Gregory

Dick Gregory was an American comedian, civil rights activist, social critic, writer, conspiracy theorist, entrepreneur, and occasional actor. During the turbulent 1960s, Gregory became a pioneer in stand-up comedy for his “no-holds-barred” sets, in which he mocked bigotry and racism.

Read More
Arsenio Hall Arts

Arsenio Hall

Arsenio Hall is an American comedian, talk show host, actor, writer and producer. He is best known for hosting The Arsenio Hall Show, a late-night talk show that ran from 1989 until 1994, and again from 2013 to 2014.

Read More
Martin Lawrence Film & TV

Martin Lawrence

Martin Lawrence is an American stand-up comedian, actor, producer, talk show host, and writer. Lawrence came to fame during the 1990s, establishing a Hollywood career as a leading actor, most notably in the Fox sitcom Martin and films like House Party, Boomerang, and Bad Boys.

Read More
Moms Mabley Arts

Moms Mabley

Loretta Aiken, known by her stage name Jackie “Moms” Mabley, was an American standup comedian. A veteran of the Chitlin’ Circuit of African-American vaudeville, she later appeared on the Ed Sullivan Show and The Smothers Brothers Comedy Hour.

Read More
Bernie Mac Arts

Bernie Mac

Bernard McCullough, better known by his stage name Bernie Mac, was an American comedian, actor, and voice actor. Born and raised on Chicago's South Side, Mac gained popularity as a stand-up comedian.

Read More
Eddie Murphy Film & TV

Eddie Murphy

Edward Murphy is an American actor, comedian, and singer. Murphy was a regular cast member on Saturday Night Live from 1980 to 1984. He has worked as a stand-up comedian and was ranked No. 10 on Comedy Central's list of the 100 Greatest Stand-ups of All Time.

Read More