Redd Foxx was born John Elroy Sanford on December 9, 1922, in St. Louis, Missouri and raised on Chicago's South Side. His father, Fred Sanford, an electrician and auto mechanic from Hickman, Kentucky, left his family when Foxx was four years old. He was raised by his half-Seminole Indian 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 G. Sanford 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 was an associate of Malcolm Little, later known as Malcolm X. In Malcolm's autobiography, Foxx is referred to as "Chicago Red, the funniest dishwasher on this earth." He earned the nickname because of his reddish hair and complexion. His surname was taken from baseball star Jimmie Foxx. 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.
Foxx gained notoriety with his raunchy nightclub act during the 1950s, 1960s, and 1970s. 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. Foxx 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 acquaintances 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 and brother'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 in Watts 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, 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 depicted a character in his 60s, although in real-life he was a decade younger.
Demond Wilson had responded if he kept in touch with everybody from Sanford & Son; esp. 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."
In 1977, Foxx left Sanford and Son, after six seasons (the show was canceled with his departure) to star in a short-lived ABC 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 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. Foxx made a comeback with the series The Royal Family, in which he co-starred with Della Reese.
Harlem Nights was Foxx's last film before his death and starred Richard Pryor and Eddie Murphy.
Redd Foxx was married four times. His first marriage was to Evelyn Killebrew in 1948 and ended in divorce in 1951. His second marriage in 1956 was to 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). Foxx adopted Harris's nine-year-old daughter Debraca, who assumed the surname "Foxx". This marriage ended in divorce in 1975. Foxx next wed Korean-American Yun Chi Chung in 1976, but the marriage ended in 1981. At the time of his death, Foxx was married to Ka Ho Cho, who used the name Ka Ho Foxx.
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 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.
On October 11, 1991, during a break from rehearsals for The Royal Family, he suffered a heart attack on the set. According to Della Reese, Foxx was about to have an interview with Entertainment Tonight; when she leaned down to Foxx as he was on the ground, Foxx said, "Get my wife" repeatedly. According to Joshua Rich at Entertainment Weekly, "It was an end so ironic that for a brief moment cast mates figured Foxx – whose 1970s 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 at the age of 68. 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 two years later, in 1993. She was buried just to the right of her famed son.
Comedian Chris Rock 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 through retelling the jokes at school. Comedian and actor Richard Pryor also cited Redd Foxx as an influence. Pryor appeared onscreen with Foxx, in Eddie Murphy's Harlem Nights.
In 1990, in the first-ever episode of In Living Color, in reference to Foxx's financial troubles, Foxx was portrayed by Damon Wayans, who is making a public service announcement to encourage people to pay their taxes. In the film Why Do Fools Fall in Love, Foxx is portrayed by Aries Spears. He is shown performing a stand-up comedy routine. In the animated television series Family Guy parody of Star Wars episode "Blue Harvest", Redd Foxx appears very briefly as an X-wing pilot. When his ship is shot down, he cries "I'm coming Elizabeth!" before dying. In addition to this, he has been parodied on Family Guy by Francis Griffin acting as Foxx's Sanford and Son character.
Foxx was meant to be featured in the MTV show Celebrity Deathmatch, advertised as taking on Jamie Foxx in the episode "When Animals Attack". Instead of Redd Foxx though, Jamie Foxx fought Ray Charles. In the Boondocks episode "Stinkmeaner 3: The Hateocracy" he is portrayed as Lord Rufus Crabmiser, one of Stinkmeaner's old friends coming to kill the Freeman family. Childhood friend and Sanford & Son co-star Lawanda Page is also portrayed in the same episode as Lady Esmeralda Gripenasty.
Redd Foxx appears as a minor character in the 2009 James Ellroy novel Blood's a Rover. He gives a bawdy eulogy at the wake of Scotty Bennett, a murdered rogue LAPD detective including the line "Scotty Bennett was fucking a porcupine. I gots to tell you motherfuckers that it was a female porcupine, so I don't see nothing perverted in it." In the 1999 film Foolish starring comedian Eddie Griffin and rapper Master P, the ghost of Redd Foxx gives Griffin's character advice from behind a stall door in a men's restroom at a comedy club before he goes onstage to perform a show. In 2015, it was said that comedian Tracy Morgan would portray Redd Foxx in a Richard Pryor biopic starring opposite comedian Mike Epps .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
Harlem Nights (1989) as Bennie Wilson
Sanford and Son (1972–77) as Fred G. Sanford / 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
Viva Shaf Vegas (1986) as Himself
The Redd Foxx Show (1986) as Al Hughes
Ghost of a Chance (1987) as Ivory Clay
The Royal Family (1991) as Alfonso Royal
630A – Let's Wiggle a Little Woogie
630B – Lucky Guy
631A – Fine Jelly Blues
631B – Redd Foxx Blues
645B – Shame on You
DTL01 – The Best Laff
DTL214 – Laff Of The Party Vol. 1 (1956)
DTL219 – Laff Of The Party Vol. 2
DTL220 – Laff Of The Party Vol. 3
DTL227 – Laff Of The Party Vol. 4 (1956)
DTL234 – Best Of Foxx Vol. 1"
DTL236 – Laff Of The Party Vol.7
DTL249 – Burlesque Humor
DTL253 – The Side Splitter Vol.1 (1959)
DTL265 – The Laff of the Party Vol. 8 (1957)
DTL270 – The Side Splitter Vol. 2 (1959)
DTL274 – Best of Fun (Red Foxx and Others)
DTL275 – Racy Tales (Also released as The New Race Track) (1959)
DTL290 – Redd Foxx Funn
DTL295 – Sly Sex (1960)
DTL298 – Have One On Me (1960)
DTL801 – Laffarama (1961)
DTL804 – Wild Party (1961)
DTL809 – This is Foxx
DTL815 – He's Funny That Way (1964)
DTL820 – Red Foxx at Jazzville U.S.A. (1961)
DTL830 – The New Fugg (1962)
DTL828 – Hearty Party Laffs (1962)
DTL832 – Laff Along With Foxx (1962) (compilation)
DTL834 – Crack Up (1963)
DTL835 – Funny Stuff (1963)
DTL840 – Adults Only (1967)
DTL845 – Jokes I Can't Tell On Television (1969)
DTL846 – Shed House Humor (1969)
DTL853 – Sanford & Foxx (1972)
DTL854 – Foxx and Jazz
DTL858 – Dirty Redd (1973)
DTL860 – Funky Tales From a Dirty Old Junkman
DTL385 – The New Soap/Song Plugging
DTL390 – The Jackasses/The Race Track
DTL397 – The Honeymooners/The Sneezes
DTL402 – Beans And Pineapple Sauce/The Army
DTL408 – The Two Oars/The Preacher's Bicycle
DTl411 – The Dead Jackass/Women Over Forty
DTL416 – Real Pretty Baby/It's Fun To Be Living In The Crazy House
DTL418 – Best Of Redd Foxx Parts 1&2
DTL421 – The House/Sex And Orange Juice
DTL426 – Hollywood Playboy/The Dogs Meeting
DTL436 – South Of The Border/The Plastic Surgeon
DTL453 – The Dear John Letter/Honesty Is The Best Policy
DTL455 – The Shoe Shine Boy/The Royal Thighs And Others
DTL458 – 118 Ways To Make Love/Pregnancy Co-Operation
DTL460 – No Teeth/With My Teeth/The Best Years/Deep Sea Diver
DTL464 – Christmas Hard Ties/Jaw Resting
SD 18157 – You Gotta Wash Your Ass (1976)
314-528 061-2 – Uncensored (1980)
KSD-1072 – Bare Facts
KSD-1073 – Pass the Apple Eve
KSD-1074 – In a Nutshell
KS-1135 – Matinee Idol
SK-754 – X-Rated v. 4
SK-756 – X-Rated v. 6
A170 – Pryor Goes Foxx Hunting (split LP including one half of Richard Pryor's "Craps")
A203 – I Ain't Lied Yet
5901 – Both Sides of Redd Foxx (1966 – Loma/Warner/Rino)
5905 – On the Loose
5906 – Redd Foxx "live" : Las Vegas! (1968)
5908 – Foxx-A-Delic (1968)
RF1 – Laff Your Head off
RF2 – Laff Your Ass Off
RF3 – Redd Foxx At Home
RF4 – A Whole Lot of Soul
RF5 – At His Best
RF6 – Doin' His Own Thing
RF7 – Say It Like It Is
RF8 – Is Sex Here To Stay
RF9 – Where It's At
RF10 – Huffin' And A Puffin'
RF11 – I Am Curious, Black
RF12 – Three Or Four Times A Day
RF13 – Mr. Hot Pants
RF14 – Hot Flashes
RF15 – Restricted
RF16 – Superstar
RF17 – Spice can Be Nice!
RF18 – Strictly For Adults
RF19 – Vegas we Come
Gettin' Down N' Dirty (2008)
The Ultimate Comedy Collection (2011)