A look at Demond Wilson’s life and career indicates he is and was much more than just a “big dummy” as his on-screen father often accused him of being.
Wilson was most known for his role as the titular “son” Lamont Sanford of Sanford and Son, one of the first sitcoms to feature a predominantly African American cast.
What did Demond Wilson go on to do after Sanford and Son took the screen for the last time in 1977? Let’s look back at his career and see what he’s up to today!
Wilson was born October 13, 1946 in Valdosta, Georgia, but he moved at an early age and grew up in New York City. His mother was 46 when she had him. His parents were married for nearly 70 years. Wilson credits his stable upbringing for his own nearly 50 year marriage. As a performer, Wilson was dancing and acting from a young age. He appeared on Broadway at 12 and did radio commercials.
From 1966 to 1968, Wilson served in the United States Army and fought in the Vietnam War, but he was wounded and sent home to resume his life as a decorated veteran.
After serving in the Vietnam War, Wilson struggled to find work. He broke into TV with shows like Mission: Impossible and All in the Family which led to being cast opposite Redd Foxx on Sanford and Son in 1972.
Sanford and Son
Wilson says he and Foxx immediately clicked since they were both from Harlem. Their on-screen chemistry reflected their off-screen friendship which evolved from mentor/student to father/son to brothers.
The series followed the titular Sanford, an LA-based junk dealer, and his son Lamont, portrayed by Demond Wilson, as they hatched harebrained schemes to get rich quick.
Their schemes were rarely, or never, successful, but the on-screen antics of Foxx and Wilson kept audiences roaring with laughter. The combo had chemistry both on and off the set, and it’s what kept the show fresh for six seasons and 135 total episodes, all of which featured Wilson’s Lamont Sanford.
Wilson briefly took the lead, along with Whitman Mayo’s Grady, when Foxx left Sanford and Sons over a salary dispute in 1974, but the dispute was settled and Foxx returned shortly thereafter. He missed nine episodes in total over the disagreement. Although three episodes of Season 4 were filmed before Foxx’s return, NBC aired his return as the season premiere.
Sanford and Son continued to enjoy good ratings and viewership all the way up until 1977. Foxx received an offer from ABC to host a variety show, The Redd Foxx Comedy Hour. Wilson agreed to stay and portray Lamont, but he wanted more money. When NBC failed to provide the raise, Wilson left as well, taking a role in a CBS sitcom called Baby, I’m Back!
Both Foxx’s and Wilson’s projects after Sanford and Sons would fail remarkably, with Foxx’s variety show being canceled within a month and Baby…I’m Back! getting thirteen episodes before cancellation. Foxx would attempt to bring Sanford and Son back in 1981, but Wilson declined to reprise his role and so it aired for two short seasons and was titled just Sanford.
It’s possible this led to a schism between the two, as Wilson claimed to have seen Foxx only once between 1977 when the show ended and 1991 when Foxx passed away–
“I saw Redd Foxx once before he died, circa 1983, and I never saw him again. At the time I was playing tennis at the Malibu Racquet Club and I was approached by some producers about doing a Redd Foxx 50th Anniversary Special. I hadn’t spoken to him since 1977, and I called the club where [Redd] was playing. And we met at Redd’s office, but he was less than affable.”
Wilson also shared that Foxx never told him personally that he intended to quit Sanford and Son after Season 6–
“I had no animosity toward Foxx because I had a million dollar contract at CBS to do Baby…I’m Back! My hurt was that he didn’t come to me about throwing the towel in. I found out in the hallway at NBC from a newscaster.”
Nonetheless, Wilson could never stay mad at his on-screen father, “I forgave him and I loved Redd, but I never forgot that. The love was there. You can watch any episode and see that.”
What did Wilson do after Sanford and Son?
Wilson left Sanford and Son to portray Raymond Ellis in Baby…I’m Back! The 1978 CBS comedy focused on Wilson’s character, a compulsive gambler, who has returned after abandoning his family and being declared legally dead in an attempt to win back his wife before she remarries to another man.
Baby…I’m Back! Enjoyed thirteen episodes in a single season before it was canceled.
Wilson would then land a role as Oscar Madison on ABC sitcom The New Odd Couple, which recast the famous roles of the sloppy Oscar and prim and tidy Felix Unger, played by Ron Glass, with African American actors to provide a fresh take on the classic source material.
The New Odd Couple aired for eighteen episodes between 1982 and 1983, but did not return for a second season.
Wilson would only appear in three more roles to date– 1993’s Me and the Kid, 2000’s Hammerlock, and a TV series called Girlfriends which featured Wilson in four episodes between 2004 and 2005.
What is Demond Wilson doing now?
Wilson mostly left behind TV and film after 2005, but did appear in a program called Praise the Lord airing on the Trinity Broadcasting Network, an international Christian network.
Wilson also acted and produced a family film called Faith Ties, portraying an old drunk who has given up on life when the film’s protagonist, a preacher, tries to provide salvation and redemption to him through the Lord.
In addition, Wilson returned to his theater roots and, in 2011, went on tour with actress Nina Nicole to put on a production of The Measure of a Man, a faith-based production set in Georgia.
Wilson, the Author
Wilson’s first book, entitled New Age Millennium, was published in December of 1998, and was described as Wilson as an “exposé” of the New Age Movement’s “symbols and slogans.”
His second book, a memoir entitled Second Banana: The Bittersweet Memoirs of the Sanford & Son Years, would not be released until 2009. It recounted the trials and tribulations of his time with Redd Foxx on the set of Sanford and Son, the greater implications of their history-making television run, and behind-the-scenes look at the actors involved.
In addition to these greater literary works, Wilson has penned a number of children’s books as well.
From Actor to Minister
Wilson was raised Catholic, but he would rekindle his relationship with God in 1982 when nearing rock bottom. At the time, he was earning $40,000 in Hollywood and spending a good portion on cocaine. He also was having extramarital affairs and, combined with the drugs, his marriage was in shambles as a result.
Wilson entreated the Lord to help him find the strength to turn things around and, sure enough, he began to recover. He became obsessed with the Bible and spirituality. By 1984, he became an ordained minister and, in 1985, he founded the Demond Wilson Ministries, headquartered in Laguna Hills, California.
After retiring from acting, Wilson became an evangelist, preaching in large auditoriums to sometimes as many as 6,000 people. He often preaches alongside another preacher, and is backed by a five-piece band and ensemble of eight gospel singers.
Wilson married former actress Cicely Johnston in 1974 and, although they went through hard times before Wilson’s spiritual awakening, they remain married today.
They have six children together.