Wow, I guess the life of an impoverished junk yard dealer was really hard. I know the show quite well but didn’t realize he was that young when it was made. The timeline fits though. His son in the show, Lamont, was fairly young (late 20’s maybe) and his wife, Elizabeth, died very young. They probably had Lamont when they were in their early 20’s based on the setting of the show so it makes sense.
I don’t think Red Foxx made himself appear older just for the show although some of the gags like fake heart attacks and poor clothes certainly helped emphasize that he wasn’t young, healthy or wealthy. He already was a very well established comedian well before it ever started. I think he is just one of those people whose appearance and personality makes them seem much older than they really are. He was mostly that way in real life as well as far as I know.
He had his own hair in the early seasons. The wig was in later seasons. Redd pissed off the studio when he shaved his head. I recall interviews where he said he wanted to look different from the character.
Wasn’t he sick of the show and just phoning it in towards the end? He quit and got replaced by Grady,
Sanford and Son was a high-rated show for its first five seasons. Its ratings dropped in its sixth season but it was still doing okay.
Then Redd Foxx got an offer to do a variety show on ABC and decided to take the offer. NBC wanted to continue Sanford and Son without Foxx. They originally planned on centering the show around Demond Wilson but he felt he should get a better contract if he was now the lead. The studio and Wilson couldn’t reach an agreement so Wilson also left the series.
So the studio retooled the show. They kept the supporting cast and brought in Theodore Wilson to play Phil Wheeler, a supposed old friend of Fred Sanford who bought his business. According to the show, Fred and Lamont had moved to Arizona. The new show, titled Sanford Arms got poor ratings and only lasted one season.
A year went by. Both Foxx’s variety show and the studio’s replacement show had been cancelled. So an agreement was reached and the show was brought back with Foxx again in the lead. Demond Wilson decided not to return so the revived series was titled Sanford. But the revived series didn’t do as well in the ratings as the original had and only lasted two seasons.
Whitman Mayo played Grady Wilson throughout all this. During the fourth season of Sanford and Son, he was given the lead in a spinoff series titled Grady. But he still occasionally appeared on the original show while his spinoff was on the air. And when Grady was cancelled after a single season, he went back to being a supporting character in the original series and he continued to play Grady in Sanford Arms and Sandford.
He had a contract dispute at one point during the show, missed some episodes, so they filmed them around Grady. I think the highest rated show happened then- Lamont’s friend Rollo visits and Grady makes him empty his pockets every few minutes to be sure Rollo isn’t stealing.
One routine that Foxx had on the show was to pretend he was having a heart attack. Tragically when Foxx actually suffered a fatal heart attack while filming "The Royal Family", many people on the set thought it was a gag.