LOS ANGELES (CNN) -- Esther Rolle, the bass-voiced, Emmy award-winning actress who gained television stardom as the strong, outspoken black matriarch in the 1970s television series "Good Times," died Tuesday. She was 78.
Rolle's publicist, Larry Calhoun, said the cause of death has not been determined. But he confirmed that Rolle suffered from diabetes and was undergoing dialysis treatment.
Her death comes just a month before the debut of her latest film, "Down in the Delta," Maya Angelou's directorial debut.
Born the 10th of 18 children of a South Florida vegetable farmer, Rolle followed her actress sister to New York after high school, landing various parts on Broadway. In the early 1970s, she was appearing in the Melvin Van Peebles' play "Don't Play Us Cheap" when she was offered the role of Florida Evans, the wise and wisecracking housekeeper on the sitcom "Maude."
The character proved so popular that producers decided to spin off a whole new show around Rolle. "Good Times" ran on CBS from 1974 to 1979.
"Good Times" told the story of Evans, her husband and three kids, who were a struggling but devoted family living in Chicago's South Side. The show made a star out of Jimmie Walker, who played Evans' older son J.J., and his trademark saying -- "Dy-no-MITE" -- became a national catch phrase.
Rolle once said she was intent on shattering the image of a "Hollywood maid with the rolling of the eyes" who doted on her white charges but ignored her own children. She demanded that her sitcom family be led by a father, a role played by John Amos.
Ironically, despite her quest to defy black stereotypes in Hollywood, Rolle spent much of her career playing maids -- in the TV movie "Summer of My German Soldier," which garnered her an Emmy; in the big screen adaptation of "Driving Miss Daisy;" and on stage in the classic "A Raisin in the Sun."
Again striving to present good role models, Rolle left "Good Times" after three seasons because she felt the J.J. character, who began getting mixed up in shady schemes as the show evolved, was a poor example for black youths. She was persuaded to return a year later.
In 1990, Rolle became the first woman to receive the NAACP Chairman's Civil Rights Leadership Award, which honored her work in helping raise the image of blacks.
In addition to her Emmy win for "Summer of My German Soldier," Rolle was also nominated for an Emmy for her work in the TV adaptation of Angelou's "I Know Why The Caged Bird Sings."
The Associated Press contributed to this report.
· Date: Thu January 12, 2006 · Filesize: 36.3kb · Dimensions: 700 x 358 ·
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