Esther Rolle was an American actress who starred on the popular CBS sitcom Maude, and later in the spin-off series Good Times. She had a long acting career and won several awards for her work. She was a pioneer in the entertainment industry and paved the way for African American actresses. She was nominated for an Emmy Award and won the NAACP Image Award. Her death on November 17, 1998, was a shock to fans and the entertainment world. She was 78 years old and died of complications from diabetes.
Esther Elizabeth Rolle was born in Pompano Beach, Florida on November 8, 1920. She grew up in a segregated area and saw firsthand the injustice of discrimination against her people. Her parents, Jonathan and Elizabeth Iris Rolle, were farmers. Rolle attended Booker T. Washington High School and Blanche Ely High School in Miami, Florida. She studied at Spelman College and Hunter College in New York City, where she worked in the Garment District to help pay for her education. She was a member of the Zeta Phi Beta fraternity.
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She began her acting career in the ’60s with a role on the television show, Everything But A Man. She also played a role in the film, A Raisin in the Sun. She was also part of a number of plays on Broadway. In addition, Rolle had guest appearances on a variety of television shows and even had her own television commercial for a psychic hotline.
Her most famous role, however, was as Florida Evans on the CBS sitcom Maude. The role was originally written for another actress, but the creators were impressed by her audition and decided to give it to her. She reprised the role in Good Times, which became a spin-off from Maude.
In addition to her acting career, Rolle was active in the civil rights movement. She was a founding member of the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People (NAACP). In 1975, she was awarded the NAACP’s Image Award for her portrayal of Florida on Good Times. She was a devout Christian and valued her privacy. She never remarried and remained close to her family throughout her life.
Esther Rolle was an incredibly talented and versatile actress who left a lasting impression on the entertainment world. She is remembered for her iconic roles in Good Times and Maude. Her dedication and passion for her work was unmatched. She will be missed by many. She is survived by her son, James Evans, and her sisters. Her eulogy was delivered by her Good Times co-star John Amos.