Daily TWiP – Death anniversary of groundbreaking Bahamian American actress Roxie Roker
Welcome to the Daily TWiP, your daily dose of all the holidays, historical observances, etc., we couldn’t cram into The Week in Preview.
Today we mark the passing of groundbreaking Bahamian American actress Roxie Roker, who died of breast cancer in 1995. She was best known for her role as Helen Willis on the sitcom “The Jeffersons.” Her character was half of the first black-white couple ever to be shown on prime time TV.
Born Aug. 28, 1929, in Miami, Roker grew up in Brooklyn, N.Y., and attended Howard University, where she was involved with the drama club. Upon graduating, she decided to pursue acting as a career.
Roker joined the Negro Ensemble Company, through which she established herself as a successful stage actress, winning an Obie (short for Off-Broadway Theater) Award in 1974 for her role as Mattie Williams in “The River Niger.”
A year after her Obie win, Roker was chosen to play Helen Willis, a black woman with a white husband, on “The Jeffersons.” The characters had already made a brief appearance on “All in the Family” (where they were portrayed by Kim Hamilton and Charles Aidman respectively), but it was decided to cast new actors for those roles on “The Jeffersons.”
According to Hollywood legend, the producer voiced concern during Roker’s audition that she might not be convincing as a black woman married to a white man. Roker’s response was to whip out a family photo, which showed her with her unmistakably white then-husband, Sy Kravitz. She was cast on the spot.
Thanks to her time on “The Jeffersons” (which brought her into contact with oodles of guest stars), numerous guest appearances on shows like “Punky Brewster” and “Murder, She Wrote,” and her work in broadcast journalism, Roker is an excellent celebrity with which to play Six Degrees of Separation.
She was also the mother of musician Lenny Kravitz, the cousin of TV personality Al Roker, and the temporary mother-in-law of actress Lisa Bonet (who divorced from Kravitz in 1993). To top it off, Roker was commended by the city of Los Angeles for her work as a children’s advocate, which would indicate that she was a well known individual in a populous city with many ties to the entertainment industry.
Sorry, Kevin Bacon. We do believe Roker may have unseated you as the industry’s most connected person.
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- Teresa Santoski