LOS ANGELES (Reuters) - Actress and comedian LaWanda Page, best known as the tough, Bible-toting Aunt Esther on the hit 1970s television comedy "Sanford and Son," has died at age 81, her agent said on Tuesday.
Page, who in later years worked in TV commercials and performed in a stand-up comedy act with "blaxploitation" film star Rudy Ray Moore (aka "Dolemite"), died Saturday in Centinela Hospital in Los Angeles of complications from diabetes, said agent Starwil Reed.
As recently as this year, Page appeared on stage in a wheelchair in a revival of the musical comedy "Inquest of Sam Cooke," playing the hotel manager who shot the soul singer to death in 1964 under mysterious circumstances.
A Cleveland native who grew up in St. Louis, Page got her start as a dancer and chorus girl billed as "the Bronze Goddess of Fire" before moving into stand-up comedy.
But Page's greatest notoriety came in her 50s, when fellow comedian Redd Foxx, a childhood friend, asked her to join the cast of his new sitcom, adapted by "All in the Family" producer Norman Lear from a British series, "Steptoe and Son."
Foxx starred on NBC's "Sanford and Son" as Fred Sanford, a cantankerous old junk dealer whose grown son and business partner, Lamont, played by Demond Wilson, has higher aspirations.
Page took the supporting role as Sanford's righteous sister-in-law, Esther Anderson, the proprietor of the run-down Sanford Arms rooming house next door to the junkyard.
She stayed on the show until the end of its run in 1977 with Foxx's departure, then returned as co-star of the short-lived spinoff, "The Sanford Arms." She also made guest appearances on Foxx's variety show on ABC and his brief attempt in 1980 to revive his earlier sitcom as "Sanford." Foxx died in 1991.
Page extended her outspoken-matriarch persona in two other TV sitcom roles in 1979 and 1980, the short-lived series "Detective School" and "B.A.D. Cats," which co-starred then little-known Michelle Pfeiffer as a cop. She also had small parts in several films, including the 1982 Scott Baio comedy "Zapped!" (1982) and the 1995 Ice Cube comedy "Friday."
In more recent years, Page appeared in a number of commercials, notably a spot touting the honey-buttered biscuits for a fried-chicken restaurant chain. In the ad, she is seen milking a "bumblecow" -- a cow with bee's wings and antennae -- then deadpanning into the camera, "Hey, it could happen."
This actually makes me really sad. I mean, she was older than dirt, but it still makes me sad.
It makes me even sadder that there is no mention here of her albums, or of the fact that she was a dirty dirty DIRTY old woman.