'Good Times' Star Esther Rolle Dies
Nov. 18, 1998
LOS ANGELES (AP) _ Esther Rolle, the strong-willed matriarch on the hit television sitcom ``Good Times'' who also appeared in the films ``Driving Miss Daisy'' and ``Rosewood,'' died at age 78, her publicist said today.
Ms. Rolle died overnight after a lengthy illness, said publicist Pat Tobin. No cause of death was given.
An actress who fought black stereotypes in Hollywood, Ms. Rolle ironically spent much of her career playing maids, on TV's ``Maude,'' the spin-off ``Good Times'' and in the TV movie ``Summer of My German Soldier.'' On stage, she played a retired maid in the classic ``A Raisin in the Sun.''
She left ``Good Times'' after three seasons because she felt her son character, played by Jimmie ``J.J.'' Walker, was a poor example for black youth. But she was persuaded to return for a year.
Ms. Rolle had said she was proud of such characters as her Florida Evans from ``Good Times,'' the 1970s sitcom that for eight seasons centered on Florida's struggle to keep their family together in the inner city of Chicago. She once said she was intent on shattering the image of a ``Hollywood maid with the rolling of the eyes'' who doted on her white charges but ignored her own children.
When CBS was planning to focus a spinoff series around her character from ``Maude,'' Ms. Rolle had demanded that her family be led by a father, a role that went to John Amos, who was introduced on ``Maude'' the year before ``Good Times'' began.
After ``Good Times,'' Ms. Rolle appeared in TV movies, winning an Emmy for her performance as a Southern maid in the powerful ``Summer of My German Soldier.'' In features, she played the long-suffering housekeeper in ``Driving Miss Daisy'' and last year appeared in John Singleton's tragic ``Rosewood.''
Ms. Rolle was born in Pompano Beach, Fla., the 10th of 18 children. Her father was a vegetable farmer. Her manager gave her date of birth as Nov. 8, 1920, though some references list the year as 1922.
Her older siblings wrote skits that she performed for the younger children. After high school, she followed her actress sister to New York City and eventually landed Broadway parts. She was appearing in Melvin Van Peeble's play ``Don't Play as Cheap'' when she won the role as Florida in ``Maude.''
In 1990, she became the first woman to receive the NAACP Chairman's Civil Rights Leadership Award, which honored her work in helping raise the image of blacks.