Actor Raymond G. Allen Sr., known for playing Uncle Woody on the sitcom Sanford and Son, has died at the age of 91, his family told TMZ Tuesday. The family added to the outlet that he had been living at a long-term care facility in California when he was found unresponsive early Monday morning. Allen's cause of death was a sudden respiratory illness but was not COVID-19 related, his family added, which followed several bouts of pneumonia over the years. His two children survive Allen.
Allen was a popular character actor during his career, also playing Ned the Wino on Good Times in addition to his role on Sanford and Sons as Aunt Esther's husband. The actor also played Merle the Earl on Starsky and Hutch, and had several guest appearances on The Jeffersons, What's Happening!! and The Love Boat.
Sanford and Son was an instant hit, and like many sitcoms of the 1970s, it was sharply written and reflected ongoing social unrest in the world at the time. "Sanford and Son was the first all-black cast on network television since Amos and Andy," co-star Demond Wilson, who played Lamont Sanford, told getTV in an interview. "When the pilot aired, it got a 52 (ratings) share, which is unheard of. It outdrew the World Series."
Asked if he agreed with the assessment that Sanford and Son was "groundbreaking," Wilson said, "Hollywood is not very creative. They jump on the bandwagon. As a result of our success, they said, 'OK, black shows. We're going to go with that.'" As a result, Wilson explained that Good Times, The Jeffersons, That's My Mama, and Chico And The Man were picked up. "If we had failed, there wouldn't have been any black shows for another decade," he said. "So, it wasn't really groundbreaking; it was moneymaking."
The sitcom has gone on to influence pop culture for decades, which Wilson said didn't surprise him. "Of all the television shows that have been done since the 1950s, only a handful of them have survived," he told the outlet. "As long as pop culture exists, Sanford And Son will be part of it." Don't get your hopes up for any kind of modern revival, however, at least not with Wilson reprising his role as Lamont. "I don't do television. I don't do movies," he said after abandoning show business in 1984. "I get offered movies every week. I don't want to be in front of the camera. That's over."