October 11, 1991-Comedian Redd Foxx dies of a massive heart attack in Los Angeles, California while on the set of the sitcom ‘The Royal Family’. His death stuns the entertainment industry and households across America. The hard scrabble, gravely voiced comic from St. Louis had made a name for himself with a profane but utterly realistic stand up routine and the hit sitcom ‘Sanford and Son’. When Foxx passed, I hadn’t yet started high school, but had watched routinely, the re-runs of Sanford and Son on television. His catchphrase “ya big dummy” was one that my friends and I would toss around from time to time. However, none of us could understand at the time how far-reaching his legacy would be and why his life and death were so important to thousands of young aspiring entertainers.
Michael Seth Starr presents this definitive biography on Foxx’s life and the demons that plagued the star throughout his life. It’s often said that comedians tend to have a dark side that’s often unseen in the public eye. This couldn’t be more than in the life of Jon Sanford, born in 1922 in St. Louis, Missouri. From an early age, the his life was one of struggle as he dealt with an absent father and mother, difficulties in school and a life of crime in New York City with a young Malcolm Little, who later changed his name to Malcolm X upon his conversion to the Islamic faith. Working his way up through show business, mainly doing stand up routines, singing and releasing comedy albums, years would pass before he starred in the show that would cement his legacy and make him a household name. But for all of the success and fame, his personal life was one of turmoil, tragedy and love. All of this is on full display and nothing is hidden, allowing the reader to see the good in Redd’s life, the bad and even the downright ugly at times. Not without his faults, Foxx’s behavior, drug use and the battles with the Internal Revenue Service are confusing and shocking. However, in spite of his many flaws, the list of friendships and acquaintances seemed to grow as he aged and the lifelong friendships with Della Reese, LaWanda Page and Slappy White remind us that there are some people who always remain with us throughout our lives, every step along the way. Starr’s account of Redd’s life is an excellent look into the life of the legendary entertainer.