Sunday, November 17, 2013
The Cold, Ironic Death of Redd Foxx
To bust up NBC's winning schedule, ABC paid Redd Foxx a small fortune to executive produce and star in his own hour-long variety show for fall of 1977. This effectively cancelled the network's highest rated comedy, Sanford & Son, although the NBC gave it a try without the show's two stars. Sanford Arms became the first casualty of the '77 fall season. (More on Redd Foxx)
By 1989 Redd Foxx was in bankruptcy following a string of failures both on screen and off, including a revival (kinda sorta) of Sanford & Son that bombed. The IRS had seized all of his possesions for unpaid back taxes. What happened to all the money Foxx made from TV and headlining in Vegas? Mostly it went up his nose. The comic made no secret of his love of cocaine, wearing a gold coke spoon around his neck and openly doing drugs on the set.
Three divorces and an extravagant lifestyle left him with few assets. "I was treated like I wasn't human" the comedian lamented to the press after the IRS seizure.
In the nineties, it looked like Redd's luck had turned around. Eddie Murphy cast him 'Harlem Nights' in 1988 - though the film was a relative flop supporting players Redd Foxx and Della Reese stole the film. This lead to a new TV series in 1991, 'The Royal Family' co-starring Redd and Della, produced by Eddie Murphy.
Redd and Della had known each other for twenty years, they had worked together in Vegas and on television (including an episode of 'Sanford and Son'). Ratings were respectable for 'The Royal Family' and getting better each week but Foxx was still bitter.
Asked by Ebony magazine what his thoughts were about returning to television he said: "The IRS will come in and take the money anyway, and have me living like a bum. Whatever comes out of it, comes out. I'm so disillusioned about the last one that I don't have any thoughts really."
Ironically, 'The Royal Family' was not the first title for the show. "They had an idea called Chest Pains", Redd Foxx told a reporter, "But that sounded too much like Fred Sanford." It was a sadly prophetic title.
Just a month after the first episode aired on October 11, 1991, Redd Foxx suffered a massive heart attack during rehearsals. At first the cast and crew laughed, they thought he was joking around, doing his "I'm coming Elizabeth" shtick.
It slowly became horrifyingly apparent that this was no joke, still no one on the set was willing to immediately help the comedian as he lay dying. No crew member wanted to risk his job and be known as the person who injured the star of the show.
Della Reese tells the shocking story of what happened next, it will turn your stomach...
The future star of CBS's 'Touched by an Angel 'Della Reese prayed over him and begged, "Don't die Redd, don't die!" but it was to no avail. Reese performed the funeral service in Las Vegas, attended by Flip Wilson, Lola Falana, and most of Foxx's cronies from his nightclub and television years. (Notably missing: Demond Wilson.)
The death was written into the show, and Redd Foxx was replaced by Jackee ('227'). 'The Royal Family' only ran for another three months. There is every reason to believe that, had Redd lived, this show would have put him back on top.
Watch this home video where Redd is reunited with his Sanford co-stars months before his death, he opened a junk shop and was selling off his possessions to pay the IRS.