Ms. Sanford, whose husky voice and dismissive, withering response to her character's husband, George, was a staple on "All in the Family" and its spin-off "The Jeffersons," also appeared in plays and musicals in her career. But the 86-year-old actress was best known as "Weezie" Jefferson. A new generation of fans is getting to know her work in cable TV reruns of the Norman Lear sitcom. Sherman Hemsley played her chafing, opinionated husband on the series.
In the 1990s, Ms. Sanford and members of the original cast toured the nation in The Jeffersons Live, a staging of half-hour episodes. The tour was greeted with a thunderous ovation from fans, but critics carped that the experience was recycled goods.
Internet Broadway Database lists an Isabell Sanford as part of the cast of James Baldwin's The Amen Corner in 1965. Late in her career, Ms. Sanford appeared in a Los Angeles production of the comic musical, Ruthless. Brief biographies of Ms. Sanford indicate that she spent 30 years in theatre before become a TV actress, but details could not immediately be found.
The native New Yorker was the first black woman to win an Emmy Award for Best Actress in a Comedy Series, in 1981. "The Jeffersons" (1975-1985) told of a black Queens family that moved up to rich, white East Side of Manhattan, "to a dee-luxe apartment in the sky," as the theme song went.
Ms. Sanford appeared as Tillie, the maid in the Katharine Hepburn-Spencer Tracy movie, "Guess Who's Coming to Dinner." She is survived by a daughter, two sons, seven grandchildren and six great-grandchildren, according to wire reports.