Roxie Roker, best known for her role as Helen Willis on the long-running CBS TV series “The Jeffersons,” died Dec. 2 of undisclosed causes. She was 66.
Born in Miami and raised in Brooklyn, N.Y., Roker earned a drama degree from Howard University and studied at the Shakespeare Institute in Stratford-on-Avon, England.
While holding an office job at NBC in New York in the 1960s, she appeared in Off Broadway shows, including Jean Genet’s play, “The Blacks.”
During 1967-68, she hosted “Inside Bedford-Stuyvesant,” a community-oriented show on WNEW-TV.
After resigning from NBC and turning full time to acting, Roker appeared onstage with the Negro Ensemble Co. in “Ododo” and “Rosalee Pritchet.” She won an Obie Award, and was a 1974 Tony nominee for her performance as Mattie Williams in “The River Niger.” Other Off Broadway credits include “Behold! Commeth the Vanderkellans” (1971) and “Jamimma”(1972).
She moved to Los Angeles when Norman Lear cast her in “The Jeffersons,” the 1975 spinoff of “All in the Family.” The new show moved Archie Bunker’s neighbors, the Jeffersons, from a blue-collar Queens, N.Y., neighborhood to a luxury apartment building in Manhattan.
Roker’s character, Helen Willis, and her white husband were the Jefferson’s upstairs neighbors and TV’s first interracial couple. The show ran for 10 years.
Roker made guest appearances on other TV shows and specials, and returned to the stage in a theater adaptation of “The Jeffersons” and a tour of “Legends” with Mary Martin and Carol Channing.
She is survived by her son, the rock musician Lenny Kravitz, her father, and a granddaughter.