I miss Redd Foxx.
Redd Foxx was one of the great success stories of the entertainment industry — a man who made the seemingly-impossible struggle
from the shabbiest of nightclubs, all the way to TV stardom, mostly notably with the hit comedy series Sanford and Son. He stumbled back down
to hard times once or twice thereafter but, when he died, he was back on top, starring in a new, successful TV show. He died on its set during an
afternoon rehearsal and when he was stricken, everyone initially thought he was feigning a heart attack, as the senior Sanford had done in almost
But it was, sadly, real. And it brought to an end, one of the most incredible, improbable, roller coasters of a career that show
business has known.
I miss Redd Foxx and yet, I never met Redd Foxx, nor was I a particular fan of any of his TV shows, nor did I even see him perform
live. I just liked the fact that, no matter how successful Redd Foxx got, he never let little things like wealth or stardom prevent him from being
For years, whenever I climbed into a taxi in Las Vegas, I would ask the driver, "Tell me your Redd Foxx story." During the comedian's
lifetime, I don't think I ever had a cabbie who didn't have a Redd Foxx story.
Mr. Foxx was the scourge of Vegas cab drivers and they went to elaborate lengths to not allow him into their vehicles. If he got into
your back seat, he would either throw up or refuse to pay. Most times, he would apparently throw up and refuse to pay, not necessarily in that
It got so that many drivers devised an elaborate "Redd Foxx Early Warning System," the better to avoid chauffeuring him about. A cab
driver, upon spotting Redd outside the Tropicana, would get on his radio and put out a broadcast: "Code 23 at the Tropicana."
That translated as: "Redd Foxx spotted at the Tropicana Hotel...avoid the area if you value your life and seat covers." Cabbies from
one company would pass the word to their competitors as a matter of professional courtesy. If Mr. Foxx staggered out to the taxi stand at any hotel,
every driver in Vegas would be alerted within minutes.
Redd, of course, got hip to the fact that taxi drivers were ducking him and he began using shills. He'd find some tourist couple from
Idaho and say to them, "You know me? Redd Foxx from Sanford and Son? I want to get a cab but I don't want to attract a crowd. Flag one down
for me, will ya?" The tourists would happily agree and, when a cab pulled up, they'd open its back door and then Redd would sprint out from behind a
The luckless cab driver would panic and try to pull away from the curb, screaming, "Arrrgghh! Redd Foxx!"
But Redd was quick as a Foxx: He'd make a dive for the rear seat and, as the driver peeled out into traffic, Redd would be hanging out
the rear door, like Jonathan Winters in It's a Mad, Mad, Mad, Mad World. He'd eventually haul himself inside and, well, once he was in, there
was no getting rid of him. The driver could only pray for a nearby destination.
For years, every driver I had in that town told me a Redd Foxx story as we cruised the Strip. One of the cleaner ones went like
"One night, I'm out front of the Trop and Redd Foxx gets into my cab. He's with two other people — a guy and a girl — and
he tells me to take him to the Sahara, so I do. They were spilling booze all over my back seat and God only knows what they were smoking. I asked
them politely to put it out and they just ignored me. Finally, we get to the Sahara and they start to get out and Redd Foxx says, 'Wait a minute.
This isn't where I wanted to go. I said the Sands.'
"I said, 'No, Mr. Foxx, you said the Sahara,' and his friends both tell him he said the Sahara but instead he gets back in the cab and
starts cursing me out, saying, 'I said to take me to the Sands.' So I drive him and his friends to the Sands and when we finally get there, he looks
up at the marquee and says, 'Wait! This isn't where George Kirby is playing! We're going to see George Kirby!'
"I said, 'George Kirby is at the Sahara, where we just were, Mr. Foxx.' And he says, 'Then take us to the Sahara!' I tried to get him
to hail another cab but he wouldn't budge. So I drove him back to the Sahara and when we get there, before he gets out, he asks the doorman what time
George Kirby goes on. Well, it turns out George Kirby isn't even doing a show that night so Foxx won't get out of the cab. He says to take them back
to the Trop, which is where I picked them up in the first place. So I haul them back down to the other end of the Strip again and when we get there,
Foxx says he wants to go to this bar over on Decatur. So I take him over to the bar there and when he and his two drunk friends finally get out, I
tell them the tab on the meter is fifteen dollars, from all that back-and-forth.
"And Foxx goes, 'Fifteen dollars? I ain't payin' and I ain't got no money, anyway. Just consider yourself honored that you had Redd
Foxx in your crappy cab.'
"I could have gone after him, called the cops, something...but I decided just to get out while I could. I figured, at least he didn't
throw up in the back seat. Or, at least, I didn't think he had, until the next fare tried to get in."
One night, about six months after Redd passed away, I got in a cab and asked the driver if he'd ever driven Redd Foxx. The driver said,
"Who's Redd Foxx?" And that was how I knew Redd was truly gone.
In the late fifties/early sixties, America experienced a brief Golden Age of comedy albums. Most featured Bob Newhart, Jonathan
Winters, Mort Sahl, Shelley Berman, Stan Freberg, Allan Sherman, or the team of Mike Nichols and Elaine May. There were also successful discs from
Eddie "The Old Philosopher" Lawrence, Tom Lehrer, Woody Woodbury and one or two others. In 1962, some comedy writers cobbled up a spoof of President
Kennedy and his kinfolk; "The First Family," starring Vaughn Meader as J.F.K., quickly became the fastest-selling record album in history. Check out
any listing of the hits of the day and you'll see all these names.
But you probably won't find the name of Redd Foxx there, even though he sold as many records as any of them, perhaps as many as most of
them, combined. Redd's sales weren't reported through normal channels and very little of the money spent for them ever found its way into his
Foxx made what they then called "party records," which was a euphemism for "dirty records." Today, you could almost play some of them
on the Disney Channel but, at the time, his monologues were adjudged as high on the filth index. They were also very popular. I once saw an
interviewer ask how many he'd made and how many he'd sold; he shook his head and said something like, "I don't know how many I made and I don't know
how many they sold but it's just as well 'cause nobody would believe the actual numbers."
I absolutely believe that. Every few months back then, our family would drive down to Washington Boulevard, to a huge, grubby discount
department store called White Front. Anything to save a dollar-ten on some new appliance.
White Front was a local chain and this one was just within a mostly-black neighborhood. When I checked out its selection of comedy
records, I would find one Lehrer, a couple of Newharts, a handful of Frebergs, a few copies of "First Family" —
— and several hundred Redd Foxx albums.
They had them by the ton — twenty or thirty copies of each of maybe twenty different Redd Foxx records. And White Front was the
kind of place that would not have had hundreds of Redd Foxx records if they weren't selling hundreds of Redd Foxx records. They dealt, as the
advertising cliché goes, in volume, volume, volume.
Most of the records featured the same cover art, printed in two colors, the second color varying from album to album to help
differentiate each volume from the others. The printer obviously ran out of colors long before Redd ran out of off-color material, since there were
at least five different shades of blue, four of green, several reds, etc.
The first time I saw them all there, I was puzzled. I knew Freberg and Newhart and Winters and the others; who was this person, never
to be seen on TV, who was crowding out my favorites? And howcome, if he had so many records out, I'd never seen them in the store in Beverly Hills
where I usually purchased my discs? (Answer: They didn't sell naughty records in Beverly Hills and they didn't sell records targeted at black
audiences. Of the two, I suspect the latter was far more the reason.)
I always wondered what was in those albums. The jackets divulged nothing about the contents but I somehow knew my parents wouldn't be
thrilled to catch me buying one. It was many years later that I came across one in a second-hand shop and bought it, wondering just where all the
others had vanished.
I took it home, put it on my turntable and...well, I made it through about half of the first side before giving up. There were a lot of
jokes about women being basically worthless and stupid and men being even more worthless and stupider. There were a lot of references to body parts
not generally itemized in mixed company. I didn't laugh but the audience on the album sure did, proving that you can laugh at anything if you're
But I'd be the last to say he wasn't funny. You don't last that long in show business, work that many clubs, sell that many records
unless a lot of folks find you funny. Comedy is often quite territorial, quite transitory: Redd's job was to make them laugh in that room on that
night and he obviously did it well.
Best Redd Foxx story I ever heard occurred not in the back seat of a Las Vegas taxi but, rather, in the showroom of one of that town's
casino-hotels. One of the many things that Sanford and Son did for Mr. Foxx was that it elevated him to the status of Vegas Headliner,
presumably at an appropriate income level.
But, of course, it also brought with it a problem that had plagued Buddy Hackett, Don Rickles and other monologists who gained fame on
TV. Audiences flocked to see Redd, but many were there to see the G-rated geezer he played on NBC, not the X-rated joke teller of a zillion party
records. He'd get up and do his act — the same act he'd been doing all his life, the only kind he cared (or knew how) to do. There'd always be
a few outraged patrons, stomping out over repeated uses of the "f" word, muttering, "He isn't like that on TV." The hotel management had to post
little warning signs outside that the Mr. Foxx's show was for adults. That cut down on the storm-outs, though not completely.
This story involves a night when they weren't flocking to see Redd — a night when no one walked out on him. In fact, it was the
other way around: Redd Foxx walked out on his audience.
And it involves one line of dialogue that employs the aforementioned "f" word, which is not properly seen in this publication. The
story really doesn't have its proper impact without the use of that word so I'll just substitute "freakin'" in its place. When you come to "freakin',
just mentally substitute the real word that every single one of you already knows but propriety prevents my quoting.
This took place at the Hacienda Hotel on a rainy Sunday night. Vegas was sparsely-peopled that evening and Redd had a lot of empty
seats at his early show. When the time came to start the 11:00 performance, there were only ten bodies in the audience.
Opening the show was Slappy White, another veteran performer who had made much the same, hard climb as Mr. Foxx, reaching a slightly
lower rung. Slappy did his twenty minutes, then a voice intoned, "Ladies and gentlemen...the star of Sanford and Son, Mister Redd Foxx
The small band on the stage struck up the Sanford and Son theme: "Yum ta da-da, yum ta da-da da-da-dum, yum ta da-da..."
Redd Foxx, resplendent in a tuxedo, his Norelco-shaved head gleaming in the follow-spot, strutted out on stage. He reached the microphone and peered
out in the house. Then, after a moment or two, he screamed out —
"I AIN'T DOIN' A SHOW FOR TEN FREAKIN' WHITE PEOPLE!"
Then he turned and marched off the stage. The band struck up his theme again: "Yum ta da-da, yum ta da-da da-da-dum, yum ta
The lights came up, the waiters passed through the place distributing refunds...and the show was over.
I don't know why but I just love that...especially the image of the band playing him off with his theme song, just as if he'd finished
a normal performance. I'd have gladly paid the full cover charge (plus two-drink minimum) to have been there that evening.
Jokes, you can hear anywhere. But how often did you get to see Redd Foxx acting like...well, like Redd Foxx?
Like I said, I was never a fan of the guy; not of what he did on stage, anyway. But there's something strangely reassuring about
finding out that some guy who's vulgar on-stage is no less vulgar off-stage. Show business abounds in performers who are like Mr. Rogers when in
front of a camera, Mr. Hyde when the world isn't watching. A little consistency is somehow refreshing.
And that is why I miss Redd Foxx. I truly am sorry that he isn't around anymore.
But then again, I don't drive a cab in Vegas.