Demond Wilson was born in Valdosta, Ga., on Oct.
13, 1946. His parents were South Georgia natives. Early in childhood his family
relocated to New York, where the future TV star began acting on-stage at the age
Between appearances on Broadway and growing up in
Manhattan, he would visit his grandmother and relatives back in Georgia each
summer. He loved to go fishing for catfish in the local creek, and along with
his cousins he sold boiled peanuts at the Valdosta train station.
As his acting career was blossoming, Uncle Sam
came calling. Wilson was drafted into the Army, and was sent south to Ft.
Jackson, S.C., Ft. Lee, Va., and Ft. Gordon, Ga. Vietnam was his ultimate
He became a decorated soldier during his tour of
duty in 1966.
“I was a warrior. At 62, I’m still a warrior. I’m
a warrior for Jesus in the army of the Lord. But when you got to Vietnam,
everybody was your brother. The staunchest redneck racist became your brother,
because you have to depend on each other to stay alive.”
Upon returning to the States, Wilson was
blindsided by the anti-war movement, which yelled at him for wearing his uniform
and showcasing his medals. He had a hard time getting a job, and decided to give
the profession he’d been tinkering with since childhood an all-out try. It
Wilson earned the role of “Charlie Blossom” in
the 1971 Sidney Poitier film The Organization, which was filmed in San
Francisco. This westward move soon led to a cameo as a comedic burglar in an
episode of All In The Family.
The producers of a new NBC sitcom caught Wilson’s
performance on the Carroll O’Connor comedy, and invited him to audition for a
role that would forever change his life.
The pilot episode of Sanford And Son was shot in
the fall of 1971, and debuted to impressive ratings on Jan. 14, 1972. The show’s
unforgettable opening, complete with a catchy Quincy Jones theme song, features
Wilson driving around in a beat-up 1951 Ford pickup truck, emblazoned with a
“Sanford And Son” logo on the side.
The rising actor played the role of “Lamont
Sanford,” alongside Missouri comedian Redd Foxx, who played the role of “Fred G.
Sanford,” a junk peddler in the Watts neighborhood of Los Angeles.
He and Foxx had not known each other before the
show, but they quickly bonded and their relationship on and off-screen was
magical. Wilson writes about this in his new book, Second Banana: The Bitter
Sweet Memoirs Of The Sanford And Son Years.
A successful comedic pairing requires a clown and
straight man, Wilson points out. He played the straight man perfectly on this
sitcom, which rose to No. 2 in the ratings during its 1972-77 run.
Sanford And Son was the first black TV show to
hit the ratings jackpot. However, the Norman Lear-produced show did require some
tinkering by Wilson and Foxx. A team of mostly Jewish writers penned the show,
and the dialogue of each episode had to be re-written and ad-libbed by the black
Almost 40 years after the show premiered, it
continues to air in syndication in over 40 countries around the world. TV Land
broadcasts the show to over 93 million U.S. homes.
The success of Sanford And Son has led to many
falsehoods about Wilson, rumors that he addresses in the new book. He says that
he thought once and for all he would set it straight and tell the truth. He was
never addicted to cocaine, and he didn’t become angry and chase Lear down the
hall with a gun, a rumor that gives him a good laugh.
After Sanford And Son ended in 1977, Wilson
appeared on other TV shows, including Baby, I’m Back, and The New Odd Couple.
Wilson’s small screen gigs took a back seat in
the 1980s when he became an evangelical minister. He’s traveled the world to
spread the Gospel. He’s also led a prison ministry.
In recent months Wilson has come out of acting
hibernation, where he’s combined his love of the Lord with acting in the
forthcoming Christian movie Faith Ties, which is kind of a black version of It’s
A Wonderful Life. He stars in the role of a millionaire that loses everything
and becomes a homeless drunk.
In Palm Desert, the Southern Californian with a
Southern upbringing lives with his wife of 36 years, Cicely. The couple have six
children, and three grandchildren.