Esther Rolle, who played feisty maid Florida Evans in the hit 1970s sitcom “Maude” and its spinoff series “Good Times,” died Tuesday at Brotman Memorial Hospital in Culver City. Rolle was suffering from diabetes and undergoing dialysis at the time of her death. She was 78.
A longtime crusader against black stereotypes in Hollywood, Rolle is nevertheless best remembered in the role of a maid. In “Maude,” she played a maid to Beatrice Arthur’s title character. Rolle also played servants in the TV movie “Summer of My German Soldier,” the Academy Award-winning film “Driving Miss Daisy” and the play “A Raisin in the Sun.”
In “Good Times,” her “Maude” character was spun off into a sitcom about a family struggling to make ends meet in inner-city Chicago, where she was an iron-willed matriarch as well as a domestic.
When CBS was planning a “Maude” spinoff in which she was to play a single mother, Rolle demanded that a father lead her television family. That part went to John Amos.
“I told them I couldn’t compound the lie that black fathers don’t care about their children,” she said. “I was proud of the family life I was able to introduce to television.”
But Rolle left “Good Times” after three seasons because she felt that the clownish character played by Jimmie (J.J.) Walker (who popularized the catch phrase “Dy-no-mite!”) was a poor example to black youth. She did, however, allow herself to return to the series for a year. The show ran from 1974 to 1979.
After “Good Times,” Rolle appeared in TV movies, winning an Emmy for her work in “German Soldier.” She was also in the movie “Rosewood” last year and plays an Alzheimer’s victim in “Down in the Delta,” a movie due at Christmas.
Rolle was born in Pompano Beach, Fla., the 10th of 18 children. Her father was a vegetable farmer.
In 1990, she became the first woman to receive the NAACP Chairman’s Civil Rights Leadership Award, for helping raise the image of blacks.
She is survived by two sisters and a brother.