Isabel Sanford, R.I.P.
Emmy-winning actress Isabel Sanford, who spent years making audiences laugh after moving on up as Louise “Weezie” Jefferson on The Jeffersons, died of natural causes on Monday, according to her publicist Brad Lemack. According to Lemack, Sanford died with her daughter Pamela Ruff by her side at Cedars-Sinai Medical Center, where she had been hospitalized since July 4. She was 86-years-old.
A native of New York, Sanford co-starred with Sherman Hemsley and Marla Gibbs on the CBS sitcom The Jeffersons from 1975-85. The show, a spin-off of All in the Family, earned Sanford seven consecutive Emmy nominations (1979-85). She took home the statuette in 1981 becoming the first black woman to ever win the Best Actress in a Comedy Series trophy. She also earned five Golden Globe nominations for playing Weezie.
Back in January, Sanford received her star on the Hollywood Walk of Fame. There, she told crowds, “Here with stars in my eyes – something that I dreamed about when I was 9-years-old.”
In addition to her Jeffersons role, Sanford also had big screen credits, including playing Tillie the maid in Stanley Kramer’s Guess Who’s Coming to Dinner?. More recently she could be seen as a guest star on shows such as The Simpsons and The Parkers, as well as doing her popular television spots for Denny’s restaurants and the Old Navy clothing chain.
Ten months ago Sanford had undergone preventative surgery on a neck artery, and her health had been declining ever since. In addition to Ruff, Sanford is survived by two sons, seven grandchildren and six great-grandchildren.
“Isabel was our queen and that’s what we called her on the show,” said Marla Gibbs, who played the Jeffersons’ maid Florence Johnston. Gibbs said that even before the hit sitcom, Sanford’s comedic talents were evident during acting auditions. “Isabel would come in and just light up the room and start telling stories and having everybody in stitches,” Gibbs said.
Sanford, a native New Yorker, was joined by “Jeffersons” creator Norman Lear and others in January when she received a star on the Hollywood Walk of Fame. . . . “She was just amazed and so pleased that the show had that kind of lasting power and entertainment because she loved to make people laugh,” he said.
I was nine years old when “The Jeffersons” debuted and only six when Sanford’s Louise Jefferson role started on “All in the Family.” Even though it was less than a decade since the height of the civil rights struggle, it never seemed unusual to me that blacks would have prominent roles on television. The historic nature of her career never really occured to me.