Wednesday, February 24, 2016

Ain't we lucky we've got 'em ... From "Good Times" to hard times for late actress' remains

BRBTV welcomes guest blogger Brian Lombard once again for this special report from the field on a beloved actress from one of our favorite classic TV shows ...

Pompano Beach, Florida might not sound like somewhere you’d expect to discover a TV star’s final resting place. But its where you’ll find Westview Community Cemetery and its most famous resident, Esther Rolle. Rolle, who rose to fame in the 1970s as Florida, the matriarch of the Evans family on “Good Times,” passed in 1998, and was interred with her family, which had connections to both the community and to Westview itself.

Westview was founded in response to the segregation of the 1950s. It is considered to be an historically black cemetery, though cemetery officials have downplayed that moniker. One former board member (and Rolle family member) said “``there are some whites out there. It`s not many, two or three, I think, but there are some.”

A few years before Rolle’s passing, a community organization sought to revitalize Westview. After 40 years in service, it needed an upgrade. Tricky roads, outdated burial equipment, and a lack of greenery were all issues to be addressed. More than 20 years later, they’ve yet to be resolved.

As a result, visitors coming to pay their respects to “Florida Evans” don’t have any trouble finding her grave. Rolle’s grave is the only one that bears a headstone, and a recognizable one at that. It stands alone atop a sea of burial vaults, the likes of which this author has never seen (see second photo below). I’ve visited the final resting places of more than 200 celebrities in 17 states, and I’ve never seen vaults like this above ground.

The proposed repairs never took place, and eventually, the cemetery was closed by the city. Two entrances remain closed 24/7, while a third is kept open for family and loved ones of those already interred. In fact, as I was leaving that day, a man who identified himself as Westview’s business manager asked why I had been taking pictures. After explaining my interest in Rolle and “Good Times,” that seemed to satisfy him.

Just last month, the Sun-Sentinel published a story on the cemetery’s fate.

It’s a case of life imitating art. While you might expect to find Florida Evans in Westview, you would never expect to see Esther Rolle, who delighted and continues to delight fans to this day.

Rest in peace.

Brian Lombard is an avid fan of classic TV, and the author of the "Bradypalooza" guide to "The Brady Bunch."

Photos by Brian Lombard; please do not copy without permission.

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