Esther Rolle, the strong-willed mother on the hit television sitcom Good Times (1974-79) who also appeared in the films Driving Miss Daisy (1989) and Rosewood (1997), died early Wednesday just 10 days after her 78th birthday.
(Her manager gave her date of birth as Nov. 8, 1920, although some references list the year as 1922 or 1933.)
Rolle died sometime Tuesday night, says her publicist, Pat Tobin. No cause of death was given.
An actress who fought black stereotypes in Hollywood, 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.
Good Times was about a struggling but loving family on Chicago's South Side. It made a star out of Jimmie Walker, who played the older son J.J., and his trademark saying - "Dy-no-mite!" - became a national catch phrase.
But Rolle left the hit sitcom after three seasons because she felt the J.J. character, who sometimes got mixed up in shady schemes, was a poor example for black youth. She was later persuaded to return for another year.
In 1979, she won an Emmy award in the category of Outstanding Supporting Actress in a Limited Series or a Special for her performance in Summer of My German Soldier. 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.
In the 1994 miniseries Scarlett, a sequel to Gone With the Wind, Rolle played the part of Mammy opposite Joanne Whalley in the title role.
In addition to Daisy and Rosewood, Rolle's film credits include How To Make An American Quilt (1995), House of Cards (1993), The Mighty Quinn (1989), and Cleopatra Jones (1973).