Rolle is best known for her television role as Florida Evans, the character she played on two 1970s sitcoms. The character was introduced as Maude Findlay’s housekeeper on Maude, and was spun off in the show’s second season into Good Times, a show about Florida’s family. Rolle was nominated in 1975 for the Best Actress in a Musical/Comedy Golden Globe Award for her role in Good Times. Rolle herself was nineteen years older than her husband on the show John Amos.
Rolle fought for more relevant themes and scripts, and was unhappy that the success of Jimmie Walker‘s character, J.J. Evans, took the show in what she thought was a frivolous direction. As a result, actor John Amos, who played the role of the father, James Evans, Sr., and agreed with Rolle about Walker’s character, left the show after the third season ended. Later on, in a stand-off with Good Times producer Norman Lear, Rolle also quit when her contract ended. Although the series continued without her for the fifth season, she returned for the show’s final season. In 1979 she won an Emmy for her role in the TV movie Summer of My German Soldier (TV film).
Among her guest star roles was one on The Incredible Hulk in an episode entitled “Behind the Wheel” where she played a taxicab business owner. In the 1990s, Rolle was a surprise guest on RuPaul‘s VH-1 talk show. Her Maude co-star Bea Arthur was the guest, and Rolle was brought out to surprise Arthur. The two had not seen each other in years, Arthur said, and embraced warmly. Rolle also appeared in a series of psychic hotline TV commercials in the 1990s. “Tell them Esther sent you,” was her trademark line.
Rolle’s only marriage was to Oscar Robinson. The two were married from 1955-1975. Esther did not have any children of her own but her husband had a daughter, Sherley Mae Robinson, (born 1936), with his first wife, the former Elizabeth Mae Robinson. After residing in Los Angeles, California, Rolle died on November 17, 1998 in Culver City, California, from complications of diabetes, 9 days after her 78th birthday. Her body was flown back to her hometown in Pompano Beach, Florida. A devout Methodist, Rolle requested that her funeral be held at Bethel African Methodist Episcopal Church. The family requested that in lieu of flowers donations be sent to such organizations as the African American Chapter of the American Diabetes Association, The Bethune-Cookman College in Daytona Beach, Florida, The Black Academy of Arts and Letters in Dallas, Texas, The Jenesse Center in Los Angeles, and Marcus Garvey Elementary and Junior High School in Los Angeles.
- November, 08, 1920
- Pompano Beach, Florida
- November, 17, 1998
- Culver City, California
Cause of Death
- Complications from Diabetes
- Westview Community Cemetery
- Pompano Beach,Florida