Redd Foxx (Getty Images / NBC)
Twenty-one years after his death Oct. 11, 1991, Redd Foxx may be best remembered for his melodramatically faked heart attacks…
Ironically, the shtick may have contributed to his death. As Fred Sanford on Sanford and Son, Foxx perfected the heart-attack hoax for use whenever his character wanted to demand attention, to the point that it became something we expected not just from the character, but from the man as well. When, 14 years after the show's run ended, Foxx suffered an actual heart attack, it's rumored that those who were with him thought it was a joke. They didn't get him the medical assistance he needed until they realized it wasn't an act – and by then, it was too late.
But Foxx, like his most famous character, was much more than the sum of his recurring gag.
As the star of Sanford and Son, Foxx became the face of one of the most racially groundbreaking shows in the history of television. The trailblazing series – one of the first successful sitcoms with a primarily black cast – set the stage for many popular shows to come, from Good Times to The Cosby Show to Bernie Mac and beyond.
Sanford and Son wasn't perfect – and Foxx wasn't always happy with the scripts he had to perform, written by white writers under the direction of white producers. But Foxx recognized that it was a step in the right direction. "I'm convinced that Sanford and Son shows middle class America a lot of what they need to know," he once remarked. "The show ...doesn't drive home a lesson, but it can open up people's minds enough for them to see how stupid every kind of prejudice can be."
Written by Linnea Crowther. Find her on Google+.