Roxie Roker was a talented and trailblazing actress who played Helen Willis on the hit sitcom The Jeffersons. She was also the mother of rock star Lenny Kravitz and the grandmother of actress Zoë Kravitz. But was she related to another famous Roker, Al Roker, the weatherman and co-host of the Today Show? Here’s what we know about their family connection.
Roxie Roker’s Early Life and Career
Roxie Albertha Roker was born on August 28, 1929 in Miami, Florida. She was, however, brought up in Brooklyn, New York. She spent the rest of her childhood in New York before moving to Wahington DC for higher studies. Her mother, Bessie (Mitchell), hailed from Georgia, and her father, Albert Hubert Roker, was from the Bahamas.
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.
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. ¹ 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.
Roxie Roker’s Breakthrough Role on The Jeffersons
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. The show was a spin-off of All in the Family and ran from 1975 to 1985. It followed the lives of George and Louise Jefferson, a wealthy black couple who moved from Queens to Manhattan.
Roker’s character Helen Willis was Louise’s best friend and neighbor in their luxury apartment building. She was married to Tom Willis, a white man who worked as an editor for a publishing company. Their interracial marriage often sparked jokes and insults from George Jefferson, who called them “zebra” and “chocolate-covered marshmallow”. However, Helen and Tom were also shown as a loving and supportive couple who raised two biracial children, Jenny and Allan.
Roker’s role on The Jeffersons was groundbreaking at the time, as it challenged the stereotypes and prejudices about interracial relationships on television. Roker said in an interview that she received hate mail and threats from some viewers who disapproved of her character’s marriage. She also said that she hoped that her role would help people to accept diversity and tolerance in society.
Roxie Roker’s Personal Life and Death
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. The couple had a son, singer-songwriter and actor Lenny Kravitz (born May 26, 1964), and divorced in 1985. ¹ Roker was also a children’s advocate who was cited by the city of Los Angeles for her community work.
Roker died of breast cancer on December 2, 1995 at the age of 66. She was survived by her son Lenny, who dedicated his song “Thinking of You” to her memory. She is also the paternal grandmother of Zoë Kravitz, the actress who starred in films such as Mad Max: Fury Road, Divergent, and Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them.
Is Roxie Roker Related to Al Roker?
The answer is yes, but not very closely. Roxie Roker and Al Roker are second cousins once removed. This means that they share a common ancestor who is their great-grandfather. Al Roker confirmed this family connection on his Twitter account in 2011, when he posted a photo of himself with Lenny Kravitz and wrote: “He’s my cousin! His mom Roxie Roker is my second cousin. Her grandfather and my grandfather were brothers.”
Al Roker is also a famous television personality who has been the weather anchor and co-host of NBC’s Today Show since 1996. He is also an author, actor, and philanthropist who has written several books and appeared in films and shows such as Cloudy with a Chance of Meatballs, Sharknado 4, and 30 Rock.
Roxie Roker and Al Roker are both accomplished and influential figures in the entertainment industry who have made history with their roles and achievements. They are also related by blood, albeit distantly, as second cousins once removed. They share a common heritage that traces back to the Bahamas, where their great-grandfather was born. Roxie Roker and Al Roker are examples of how talent and passion can run in the family.