Esther Rolle played more than one iconic role in Hollywood productions. But she was defined by, and is remembered by, the character Florida Evans, the family matriarch in the television sitcom, Good Times.
Although her memory lives on in the public’s mind through that character especially, Rolle died years ago. Esther Rolle died in Los Angeles in 1998. How did she die? What was her cause of death? She had diabetes and was undergoing dialysis, according to The Associated Press. She died in a hospital at the age of 78 years old.
“Afflicted with diabetes, Esther’s health failed in the 1990s and toward the end of her life she was on kidney dialysis,” Biography.com reports.
On December 18, 2019, ABC is bringing back the iconic television programs All in the Family and Good Times live before a studio audience. Woody Harrelson and Marisa Tomei are playing Archie and Edith Bunker. Viola Davis will reprise the role of Florida Evans.
Here’s what you need to know:
When She Died, Esther Rolle Was Remembered as a Woman of ‘Strong Conviction’
Norman Lear, creator of Good Times, told The Associated Press that he cast Rolle as Florida Evans because she had a strong presence.
“Wherever she was, you knew she was there,” he said after she died. “The woman had strong conviction. We may not have agreed on everything, but that is what happens when you have two creative minds at work.”
Rolle’s contributions to the television industry go well beyond a single character; she fought racial discrimination in Hollywood throughout her life.
According to AP, she fought against stereotypes for black actresses throughout her life but still found herself relegated to playing maid characters at times. However, according to AP, she was proud of the characters she brought to life, once saying, “I was proud of the family life I was able to introduce to television.”
Rolle’s funeral was held in Pompano Beach, Fla., which was her hometown, according to The Los Angeles Times. It was held at Bethel African Methodist Episcopal Church. She was survived by her brother Isiah, and two sisters, Rosanna Carter and Zilpha Sawyer, The Times reported. Donations were requested to the African American Chapter of the American Diabetes Association, among other charities.
Esther Rolle, Who Was One of 18 Children, Fought to Have a Father Figure on Good Times
Esther Rolle was one of 18 children born to parents who were Caribbean immigrants, according to Biography.com. The site reports that Rolle’s dad insisted she not become a servant in real life; instead, she would fight for a fuller family life for her iconic television character, whom she also played in Maude. She was divorced and left behind no children of her own.
John Amos, who played Florida’s husband on the show, told The Orlando Sentinel in 2015, “Esther was a consummate professional. She was strong on-screen as well as off camera. It’s only because of her insistence that I was hired as her husband. They perceived the show as a matriarchal situation. She wanted a husband. I read for her. It was her show. I read for Miss Rolle and [executive producer] Noman Lear. She turned to Norman Lear and said, ‘He’ll do just fine.'”
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