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Roxie Roker; Actress Was in TV's 'Jeffersons'

December 08, 1995|MYRNA OLIVER | TIMES STAFF WRITER

Roxie Roker, the elegant and beautiful actress best known for her role as Helen Willis on the long-running hit CBS television series "The Jeffersons," has died. She was 66.

Roker died Saturday in Los Angeles, her publicist, Cynthia Snyder, said this week. The cause of death was not revealed.

The actress, also known for her community work, had moved to Hollywood in 1975 when Norman Lear cast her in "The Jeffersons" as part of the upstairs interracial couple. Portraying the black wife Helen, she was married to white Tom Willis, portrayed by actor Franklin Cover. The couple's daughter married Lionel, son of the black title couple played by Sherman Hemsley and Isabel Sanford.

Roker also played the role of Melissa in the 1977 epic television miniseries "Roots."

A veteran stage actress, Roker rejoined her "Jeffersons" cast members after the series ended in 1985 to perform in a stage production of the sitcom.

Born in Miami and reared in Brooklyn, Roker earned a drama degree from Howard University and studied classical acting in England.

She worked in off-Broadway productions and had roles with the Negro Ensemble Company, including those in "Ododo" and "Rosalee Pritchard."

Roker hit her stride on Broadway in 1974, shortly before Lear tapped her for "The Jeffersons," earning an Obie and a Tony nomination for her performance as Mattie Williams in "The River Niger."

She later appeared on many TV specials and movies, including "The Celebrity and the Arcade Kid" and "Making of a Male Model" in 1983, and in films, including "The Bermuda Triangle" in 1978, "Amazon Women on the Moon" in 1987 and "Penny Ante" in 1990.

The actress was honored twice by the Los Angeles City Council for her work on the Inter Agency Council on Child Abuse and Neglect.

Roker is survived by her son, rock guitarist and singer Lenny Kravitz; her father, Albert Roker; an aunt; and a granddaughter.

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