Joseph L. Essex, 57, a veteran of two wars and a lifelong resident of the Washington area, died of cancer Friday at the Veterans Administration Hospital here.

Mr. Essex was born in washington. He graduate from Eastern High School. He joined the Marine Corps and served in the South pacific during World War II and in Korea during the conflict there.

After his war service he joined the American Finance Co. here and spent about 15 years with that firm. For the past 10 years, he had been employed by Creditor Claims of America.

Mr. Essex was a sports fan and for many years played amateur basketball and football in washington. He was a member of the Southeast Boys Club and of the Northeast Boys Club. Until about four years ago, he played softball in American Legion games.

He had lived in Hyattsville and Woodland Beach, Md., and then in Silver Spring, where he resided at the time of his death.

Survirors include his wife, mrs. Gloria Essex, of Annapolis; four sons, Joseph, Thomas, Laurence and Michael: a step-daughter, Mrs. Peggy Neiman; his mother, Mrs. Mary D. Essex, of University Park; five brothers; six sisters; four children, and a friend, Mrs. Mickey Rickenbacher, of Silver Spring.