Marlene Clark, Sanford and Son Star, Dies at 85

Marlene Clark, an actress and model who rose to fame in the 1970s, has passed away. Per THR, Clark died at her home in Los Angeles on May 18, though no cause of death was immediately revealed. She was 85 years old.

“For 15 years she curated a bustling restaurant scene where underground artists mingled with locals and the stars of film and television,” Clark’s friend, Tamara Lynch, said of the news. “She had a vision of culinary excellence coupled with dynamic professional service and would lay out the blueprint for the glamorous L.A. restaurant scene brilliantly casted with her discerning eye.”

Lynch added, “Marlene’s style was impeccable. She loved fashion, food and acting. Her large, full laugh that could fill a room will be missed. She leaves behind friends and family that will forever be grateful for her grace, love and beautiful heart. Marlene was one of our finest examples of Black beauty.”

Clark started her career in show business as a fashion model before finding her way in acting in the late 1960s. Some of her earliest roles include appearing in 1968’s For Love of Ivy with Sidney Poitier and Robert Downey Sr.’s 1969 film Putney Swope. In 1973, she would take on one of her most well-known roles by starring as Ganja Meda in the horror movie Ganja & Hess. She followed that up with a role in the iconic Bruce Lee film Enter the Dragon, released that same year.

Clark would also appear in the 1972 movie Slaughter, which also starred Jim Brown and Stella Stevens. Coincidentally, Clark died on the same day as Brown, who also passed away on May 18, 2023. Her other film work from the era includes roles in The Landlord, Night of the Cobra Woman, Black Mamba, The Beast Must Die, Switchblade Sisters, Clay Pigeon, Beware! The Blob, and Newman’s Law.

Meanwhile, Clark also made her mark on the small screen with a memorable role in the popular sitcom Sanford and Son. On that show, she played Janet Lawson, the fiancé of Lamont Sanford (Demond Wilson). Clark was featured in a recurring role as Janet from when she joined in the show’s fifth season until it ended in 1977. The sitcom is one of the most-well known TV shows of the 1970s, bringing greater fame to Clark.

Other TV roles for Clark include appearing in shows like The Richard Pryor Show, What’s Happening!!, Barnaby Jones, and Highway to Heaven. Her final acting role was in 1988 when she played a teacher in the TV series Head of the Class.
Clark was married once, wedding actor Billy Dee Williams in 1968 and serving as stepmother to his son, Corey. The marriage lasted three years before the pair divorced in 1971.

Our thoughts are with Clark’s loved ones at this painful time. May she rest in peace.

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