Bexley as Bubba with Redd Foxx on Sanford and Son, 1976.
March 10, 1910|
Detroit, Michigan, United States
or Jamestown, Virginia, United States (sources differ)
|Died||April 15, 1997
Hampton, Virginia, United States
Donald Thomas Bexley (March 10, 1910 – April 15, 1997) was an American actor and comedian, best known for playing Fred Sanford (Redd Foxx)'s friend Bubba Bexley on the 1970s television sitcom Sanford and Son.
Bexley was born on March 10, 1910 in either Jamestown, Virginia or Detroit, Michigan to the late Mr. and Mrs. Thomas Bexley. His father was a Bible scholar and teacher and his mother a classical vocalist. "I was born with a flair for the stage, as I had always been a clown - even during early adolescence," Bexley wrote in 1983.
Bexley was a veteran performer and actor who had attained the status of one of America's funniest black comedians, having entertained audiences throughout the United States and four continents. His entertainment career spanned over five decades, which included directing orchestras, singing and dancing in groups for more than 10 years, burlesque and acting.
In the early 1940s, Bexley started doing stand-up comedy in upstate New York with such top comedians as Milton Berle, Danny Kaye and Henny Youngman and danced with the late Sammy Davis Jr. and other great entertainers.
Bexley was the first black stand-up comedian to do the hotel circuit in the Mountain Hotel. During his travels, he met many black entertainers. One in particular was Redd Foxx; they worked in New York, Philadelphia and New Jersey.
He was also a singer and dancer. Early in his career, he performed with a dance group called Three Shades of Rhythm. And before his television debut, he did theater in Los Angeles and New York City.
Redd Foxx and Sanford and Son
When Bexley returned from Europe in 1969, he and Foxx were cast together in Cotton Comes to Harlem (1970). Upon Bexley's arrival from Asia in 1971, Foxx sent for him to join in the NBC sitcom Sanford and Son. It was Foxx who convinced Bud Yorkin and Aaron Ruben to hire Bexley to play one of Fred G. Sanford's friends. At the time, Bexley was 62 years old and had never appeared on television before. Bexley gained international popularity for his portrayal as "Bubba" on the series, which is a very successful "rerun sitcom" even today.
Sanford and Son, based on a British show Steptoe and Son, was an instant hit and remained in the country's top 10 programs for its entire run from 1972 to 1977. Bexley reprised Bubba in the short-lived sequel, Sanford Arms, which had many of the same characters but not Foxx and Demond Wilson.
He appeared in many television shows such as Cheers, Hunter and Laverne & Shirley, as well as the 1976 film Sparkle. One of his final appearances on television was in an episode of Foxx's The Royal Family. In the episode, "New Beginnings", Bexley makes a special guest appearance as an old friend of Al Royal's (Foxx) who attends his funeral.
In 1989, Bexley had a sitcom in the works which he had written and would have starred in titled Cee Cashman and 'Yul Stay Broke. It was a story about a Black Jew who owns a pawnshop. Just before his death, Bexley was still writing for stage and television. Clarence Williams, Sr., a friend of Bexley's, said the actor had completed several scripts, although he knew of no current plans to produce them.
Since his relocation to Hampton, Virginia (before that, he resided in the San Fernando Valley) during the 1990s, Bexley was still quite active, always working on new ideas for shows and live performances.
Bexley made personal appearances and signed autographs on many occasions, including the Newmarket Fair Day-Talent Show on September of 1996, and the Aberdeen Athletic Association on June of 1996. One of Bexley's last signings was during his attendance at the NASA Langley Research Center's "Black History Program," on February of 1997. These types of activities added to his longevity.
Personal life and death
Bexley had a close friendship with Redd Foxx, until Foxx's death in October 1991. He attended Foxx's funeral in Las Vegas, where he was an honorary pallbearer. Their friendship lasted for nearly fifty years.
Bexley died of heart and kidney failure on April 15, 1997, at Hampton Sentara Hospital, in Hampton, Virginia. He was 87 years old. He is survived by his wife Sally Bexley and his two daughters Donna and Stacies Marie, as well as grandchildren, great-grandchildren, nieces and nephews.
- Cotton Comes to Harlem (1970)
- What's Up, Doc? (1972)
- Sparkle (1976)
- Little Miss Maker (1980)
- Vibes (1988)
- Watson, Denise M. (28 October 2012). "Graves of interest in local cemeteries". The Virginian-Pilot. Retrieved 3 July 2015.
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- Don Bexley biography at The New York Times
- "Donald T. Bexley; Actor on 'Sanford and Son'". Los Angeles Times. 20 April 1997. Retrieved 27 March 2015.
- Feam-Banks, Kathleen (2009). The A to Z of African-American Television. Scarecrow Press. ISBN 9780810863484.
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- "Do you remember these TV lines?". The Albany Herald. 25 May 2013. Retrieved 3 July 2015.
- Austen, Jake; Taylor, Yuval (2012). "Darkest America: Black Minstrelsy from Slavery to Hip-Hop". W. W. Norton & Company. ISBN 9780393083903.
- Jordan, John H. (2013). Black Americans 17th Century to 21st Century. Trafford Publishing. ISBN 9781490717326.
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- Bjorklund, Dennis. Cheers TV Show: A Comprehensive Reference. Praetorian Publishing. ISBN 9780967985237.
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- "Comic Don 'Bubba' Bexley Receives Senior Award". Jet. 23 October 1989. Retrieved 1 July 2015.
- Major, Gerri (14 October 1976). "Society World". Jet. Retrieved 3 July 2015.
- "The Redd Foxx That Nobody Knew". Jet. 4 November 1991. Retrieved 1 July 2015.
- Starr, Michael Seth (2011). Black and Blue: The Redd Foxx Story. Applause Theatre & Cinema. ISBN 9781557838520. pg. 284
- Goodman, Mark (28 October 1991). "Redd Foxx Exits, Laughing". People. Retrieved 1 July 2015.
- "Died:". Jet. 12 May 1997. Retrieved 3 July 2015.