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Roxie Roker

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Roxie Roker
Roker in 1976.
Roxie Albertha Roker

(1929-08-28)August 28, 1929
Miami, Florida, U.S.
DiedDecember 2, 1995(1995-12-02) (aged 66)
Los Angeles, California, U.S.
Alma materHoward University
Years active1974–1995
Sy Kravitz
(m. 1962; div. 1985)
ChildrenLenny Kravitz

Roxie Albertha Roker (August 28, 1929 – December 2, 1995) was an American actress who portrayed Helen Willis on the CBS sitcom The Jeffersons. Roker is the mother of rock musician Lenny Kravitz and paternal grandmother of actress Zoë Kravitz.

Early life and education[edit]

Roker was born in Miami, Florida.[1] Her mother, Bessie Roker (née Mitchell), was from Georgia and worked as a domestic. Her father, Albert Roker, was a porter and a native of Andros, The Bahamas.[2] She grew up in Brooklyn, New York.[3]

Roker studied drama at Howard University where she was a pupil of celebrated drama teachers Anne Cooke Reid and Owen Dodson. Some of her fellow drama students at Howard included novelist Toni Morrison, actress Zaida Coles, stage director and playwright Shauneille Perry, and actor Graham Brown; all of whom were members of the university's theatre troupe, the Howard Players. Roker toured with the Howard Players for performances in Norway in 1949; a trip sponsored by the United States Department of State, which was supported by Eleanor Roosevelt.[4]


She began her professional career with the Negro Ensemble Company and became a successful stage actress. She won an Obie Award in 1974 and was nominated for a Tony Award for her portrayal of Mattie Williams in The River Niger.[3] She was a reporter on WNEW-TV in New York in the 1970s and hosted a public affairs show for the station known as Inside Bed-Stuy, dealing with events in the Brooklyn neighborhood.[3] Roker portrayed Helen Willis on The Jeffersons, breaking social barriers by becoming one half of the first Caucasian-African-American married couple (along with actor Franklin Cover) as regular cast member on prime-time TV. She appeared in guest starring roles on many other United States television shows from the 1970s through the 1990s, including "Stone in the River" starring Hal Miller for NBC, Punky Brewster, Hangin' with Mr. Cooper, A Different World, Murder, She Wrote, The Love Boat, $weepstake$, 227, Beat the Clock, Fantasy Island, and ABC Afterschool Specials. She had roles in the television miniseries Roots and in the movie Claudine. Roker was also a children’s advocate who was cited by the city of Los Angeles for her community work.[3]

Personal life[edit]

Roker was married to television producer Sy Kravitz in 1962. Like her Jeffersons character Helen Willis, Roker had an interracial marriage to a white man.[5] The couple had a son, singer-songwriter and actor Lenny Kravitz (b. May 26, 1964), and divorced in 1985.[3] Weather anchor Al Roker and Roxie Roker were second cousins once removed.[6]


Roker died in Los Angeles, California, on December 2, 1995, of breast cancer. She was 66.[7]


Year Title Role Notes
1974 Change at 125th Street Eloise Morse TV movie
1974 Claudine Mrs. Winston
1975-1985 The Jeffersons Helen Willis
1977 Roots Malizy Episode: "Part V"
1977 Billy: Portrait of a Street Kid Mrs. Peoples TV movie
1979 $weepstake$ Margaret Episode: "Roscoe, Elizabeth, and the M.C."
1979 The Bermuda Triangle Bohamiar Radio Operator Documentary
1982 Fantasy Island Emily Carlisle Episode: "The Kleptomaniac/Thank God, I'm a Country Girl"
1983 Making of a Male Model Madge Davis TV movie
1983-1987 ABC Afterschool Specials Phyllis Brooks / Aunt Helen 2 episodes
1987 Amazon Women on the Moon Female Republican (segment "Blacks Without Soul")
1988 Punky Brewster Judge J.F. Taylor 1 episode
1990 Penny Ante: The Motion Picture
1991 A Different World Dean Barksdale Episode: "Home Is Where The Fire Is"


  1. ^ "Social Security Applications and Claims Index, 1936–2007". Ancestry.com (database; online). Provo, Utah. Retrieved December 15, 2020 (searching "Roxie Albertha Roker". "Birth Place: Miami, Miami-Dade, Florida" ){{cite web}}: CS1 maint: postscript (link)
  2. ^ Robbins, Fred, "Roxie Roker: Her Life is Not Just the Hollywood Life", The Modesto Bee, Wednesday, December 26, 1984
  3. ^ a b c d e "Roxie Roker, 66, Who Broke Barrier In Her Marriage on TV's 'Jeffersons'". The New York Times. Associated Press. December 6, 1995. Retrieved July 3, 2010.
  4. ^ Smith, Jessie Carney (1996). Notable Black American Women. New York: Gale Research. pp. 143–146. ISBN 978-0-8103-9177-2 – via Internet Archive. born on October 6, 1907
  5. ^ Rivas, Aby (May 31, 2019). "'The Jeffersons' Roxie Roker's Real-Life Interracial Marriage Was Nothing like Her TV One". AmoMama. Retrieved December 16, 2020.
  6. ^ "Al, Lenny Kravitz discuss being distant cousins". Today. September 2, 2011. Archived from the original on November 8, 2020. Retrieved October 21, 2014. Is Al really related to Lenny Kravitz? Yes! Their grandfathers were cousins, Al said on 'Today' this morning.
  7. ^ Santoski, Teresa (December 2, 2009). "Death anniversary of groundbreaking Bahamian American actress Roxie Roker". Nashua Telegraph. Retrieved July 3, 2010.

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