Roxie Roker was an Afro-Bahamian-American actress. The characters she played exhibited her raw talent in the field of acting. Roxie was best known for her role as ‘Helen Willis’ on the CBS sitcom ‘The Jeffersons’. She was the half of first interracial couple on television in ‘The Jeffersons’. Her other half was Franklin Cover, and together they broke barriers in the field of prime-time television. Right from her college days, she featured in various productions. After appearing in a number of Broadway plays, she finally became a full-time actress. Singer Lenny Kravitz is her son with television producer, Sy Kravitz. Along with movies and television shows, Roxie also did a lot of community work. It was her to give back to the society. She worked towards eradicating child abuse and neglect. She made a name for herself, especially during the time when racism was deeply prevalent in society and the entertainment industry was no exception to this fact.
Childhood & Early Life
Roxie Albertha Roker was born on August 28, 1929 in Miami, Florida. She was, however, brought up in Brooklyn, New York. She spent the rest of her childhood in New York before moving to Wahington DC for higher studies.
Her mother, Bessie (Mitchell), hailed from Georgia, and her father, Albert Hubert Roker, was from the Bahamas. She came from a poor family, where her mother worked as a domestic worker and her father was a porter.
Her mother was an African-American and her father was an Afro-Bahamian immigrant.
She went to the Howard University in Washington DC to earn a degree in Fine Arts. She received her degree in 1952.
During her college days, she became a part of a lot of productions, and was an active member in the Howard Players. She was also a member of Alpha Kappa Alpha Sorority Inc.
She also studied at the Shakespeare Institute in Stratford- upon-Avon in England.
After graduating from college, she moved to New York to pursue a career in acting while also finding means to support herself.
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After she moved to New York, she got a job in NBC’s New York office, but she never stopped performing at various Broadway plays.
She started her professional acting career with the Negro Ensemble Company where she successfully became a stage performer.
She did Off-Broadway shows and acted in Jean Genet’s Play, ‘The Blacks’. She continued acting in various plays until she got her first Broadway play.
She started acting in plays like ‘Ododo’ and ‘Rosalee Pritchard’, and received good reviews from the audience for her roles. Her other Off Broadway plays include ‘Behold! Cometh the Vanderkellans’ (1971) and ‘Jamimma’(1972).
In 1972, she did a play called ‘The Niger River’. Her performance as ‘Matie Willams’ in the play was greatly appreciated by the audience and even got her a few awards and achievements for her mind-blowing performance.
She worked as a reporter for WNEW-TV in New York. She hosted a show called, ‘Inside Bedford-Stuyvesant’ where she used to deal with the events taking place in Brooklyn and the surrounding areas.
Her most memorable role came in American sitcom, ‘The Jeffersons’ for ABC, where Roxie appeared in the role of ‘Helen Willis’. The show lasted for 10 years (1975-85).
‘The Jeffersons’ is the second-longest running show with African-American cast. This show was also the first ever to feature an interracial couple on prime-time television.
In 1974, she had a small role in an American movie, ‘Claudiene’, where she played ‘Mrs. Winston’.
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She also had a role in the 1977 miniseries ‘Roots’, which was based on Alex Haley’s novel with the same name.
Between 1970 and 1990, she appeared in numerous TV shows like ‘Stone in the River’ for NBC, ‘Punky Brewster’, ‘Hanging with Mr. Cooper’, ‘ A Different World’, ‘Murder She Wrote’, ‘The Love Boat’, ‘227’, ‘Beat the Clock’, etc. With such TV shows, she managed to make a good name in the entertainment industry.
In 1987, she appeared in a movie, ‘Amazon Women on the Moon’, a spoof of 1950s science fiction movies.
She was also a board member of the ‘Inter Agency Council on child Abuse and Neglect’, and an advocate for child protection and safety. She had also earned two citations from the Los Angeles City Council.
Awards & Achievements
She received Broadway’s Tony Award nomination in 1974 for her portrayal of ‘Matie Williams’ in ‘The River Niger’. She was nominated as the ‘Best Supporting Actress.
She won an Obie Award for her role in ‘The River Niger’ in 1974. This honor marked her potential as a performer.
Life & Legacy
Roxie got married to television producer Sy Kravitz in 1962. She gave birth to a son on May 26th, 1964, who is now a famous singer-songwriter and rockstar, Lenny Kravitz. Lenny is also a Grammy-winner. Her marriage with Sy Kravitz came to an end in 1985.
Roxie is also the paternal grandmother of Zoe Kravitz, the actress, and cousin of NBC’s Today Show, Al Roker.
She died of breast cancer on December 2, 1995 at the age of 66.
Her son, Lenny Kravitz, even dedicated a song for her. It’s called ‘Thinking of You’.
She died two minutes after midnight of December 2, 1995. Her son’s daughter, Zoe Kravitz was born on December 1st, 1995. And the family was concerned that Zoe’s grandmother might die on the same day she was born, which would have been truly heartbreaking.
Roxie was a good friend of sassy comedian, Marla Gibbs.
While she auditioned for her role for ‘The Jeffersons’, she was told by the producer that he wasn’t sure if she’d fit in the part of African-American woman married to a white man. She showed her the photo of her white husband, and was immediately selected for the part.