The July 13 obituary for Isabel Sanford incorrectly stated where she died. She died at a hospital in Los Angeles, not New York. (Published 7/16/04)
Isabel Sanford, 86, the actress best known for playing the long-suffering matriarch on the sitcom "The Jeffersons," died July 9 at a hospital in New York. Her health deteriorated after preventive surgery on a neck artery 10 months ago.
"The Jeffersons" ran on CBS from 1975 to 1985, and Ms. Sanford received an Emmy Award for best actress in a comedy series.
The show was a spinoff of "All in the Family," on which Ms. Sanford and Sherman Hemsley played a black couple who live near the bigoted Archie Bunker. "All in the Family" was a landmark show that addressed racism in a comic format.
On "The Jeffersons," Ms. Sanford played Louise "Weezy" Jefferson, who showed exasperation with the foibles and schemes of her husband, George, whose successful dry cleaning business enabled the family to move into a tony Manhattan skyscraper. The show's theme song was "Moving On Up."
Ms. Sanford was born in New York and began performing in her teens, against her mother's wishes. She sneaked out of her home to sing in nightclubs, and soon her notoriety left her no choice but to tell her mother. She had won third place in an Apollo Theatre amateur contest.
She married, had three children and was the principal source of income for her new family. She worked as a keypunch operator by day at the New York City welfare department and spent her nights acting with the American Negro Theatre and other groups. She had a number of off-Broadway parts.
After her husband's death, she decided to take her children to Hollywood and attempt a career in film in the early 1960s. Her biggest role was in Stanley Kramer's "Guess Who's Coming to Dinner" (1967). She played the maid, Tillie, who disapproved of the interracial love match between Sidney Poitier and Katharine Houghton.
The part led to her recurring role on "All in the Family."
"I watched the first episode of that, and I didn't like it," Ms. Sanford told a reporter in 1996. "I didn't like the background. I didn't like the way they dressed. I didn't like the way Archie Bunker talked about black people. But I decided to watch the next episode anyway to see if I could determine why they would allow this trash to be on the air, and I found myself falling down laughing."
After "The Jeffersons," she did stage and television work in Los Angeles and made several cameo appearances in shows such as "Cybill," "The Fresh Prince of Bel-Air" and "Roseanne."
In recent years, she did voice-overs on "The Simpsons" and appeared in commercials for Denny's restaurants and retailer Old Navy.
Survivors include three children, seven grandchildren and six great-grandchildren.