Actress-comedian LaWanda Page, best known as the tough, Bible-toting Aunt Esther on the hit 1970s television comedy “Sanford and Son,” died Saturday Sept. 14 in L.A. from complications of diabetes. She was 81.
After “Sanford,” she worked in TV commercials and performed in a standup comedy act with blaxploitation film star Rudy Ray Moore (aka Dolemite). As recently as this year, Page appeared onstage in a wheelchair in a revival of the musical comedy “Inquest of Sam Cooke.”
Cleveland native grew up in St. Louis and got her start as a dancer and chorus girl billed as “the Bronze Goddess of Fire” before moving into standup comedy.
Page’s greatest notoriety came in her 50s when fellow comedian Redd Foxx, a childhood friend, asked her to join the cast of his new “Sanford” sitcom. Page took the supporting role as Sanford’s righteous sister-in-law, Esther Anderson, the proprietor of the run-down Sanford Arms rooming house next door to the Sanford junkyard. She stayed on the show until the end of its run in 1977, then returned as co-star of the short-lived spinoff, “The Sanford Arms.”
She also made guest appearances on Foxx’s variety show on ABC and his brief attempt in 1980 to revive his earlier sitcom as “Sanford.” Page extended her outspoken-matriarch persona in two other TV sitcom roles in 1979 and 1980, the short-lived series “Detective School” and “B.A.D. Cats,” which co-starred Michelle Pfeiffer. She also appeared on “Family Matters,” “In Living Color” and “Martin.”
She additionally had parts in several films, including the 1982 Scott Baio comedy “Zapped!” (1982) and the 1995 Ice Cube comedy “Friday.”
In more recent years, Page appeared in a number of commercials, most notably a comedy spot for Church’s Fried Chicken buttermilk biscuits in which she milks a “bumblecow” — a cow with bee’s wings and antennae.
She is survived by a daughter and sister.