LaWanda Page, born Alberta Peal (October 19, 1920 - September 14, 2002) was an American actress, perhaps best known for her portrayal of Aunt Esther in the 1970s sitcom Sanford and Son.
Raised in St Louis, Missouri, Page started her career in show business in small clubs, working as "The Bronze Goddess of Fire," an act which included her lighting cigarettes with her fingertips. She performed this routine on an episode of Sanford and Son, in which Fred held a circus in his front yard.
Page was convinced by her friend Redd Foxx to become a stand-up comedienne. Page recorded several live comedy albums for the Laff Records label in the late 1960s and early 1970s; One release, a gold-selling album called Watch it, Sucka!, was titled after Aunt Esther's catchphrase to cash in on her newfound TV fame.
On Sanford and Son, Page's "Aunt Esther" character was the sister of Elizabeth, Fred Sanford's (Foxx) late wife. Page was Foxx's only choice to play Aunt Esther. Esther would sometimes be accompanied by other formidable ladies from her church, or by her henpecked, massively inebriated husband, Woodrow (played by Raymond Allen).
Aunt Esther was a combination of a devout church goer and a tough-as-nails realist, often sparring with Fred over both the state of his soul and the lack of his success, and getting insulted by Fred in return over his opinion of her homely looks. The character of Esther was in direct contrast with the "blue" material of Page's stand-up act and record albums.
Page also portrayed her character on several episodes of Dean Martin's "Celebrity Roasts." She also acted in several episodes of other television shows, including Amen and Martin, 227, and Diff'rent Strokes (as Arnold and Willis's cousin Myrtle Waters), and appeared in the Steve Martin film My Blue Heaven. Page's career experienced a brief revitalization in the early 90s after she appeared on several tracks of the debut album by RuPaul called Supermodel of the World, particularly the hit song Supermodel (You Better Work). She also appeared in several music videos from the album. She furthermore appeared in the 1992 "Brown Bombshell" episode of Family Matters as a recently-released jail inmate, who sported "a full-body tattoo of the Yew-Nited States." She paid homage to both her Aunt Esther character and her stand-up material, with the line (to Carl Winslow), "I was gonna give you a geography lesson you'd never forget...SUCKA!" Shortly before her death she appeared in several comical Church's Fried Chicken television commercials with the catchphrase of "Gotta love it!" She also made a cameo appearance in the hit movie Friday and stole the show with a movie opening one-liner. In 1992 she made a guest appearance in the hood parody film Don't Be a Menace as the overbearing mother of aging gangsta "Old School".
Page succumbed to diabetes in September 2002. She is interred in an outdoor crypt at Inglewood Park Cemetery in Inglewood, California.
Her daughter, the Evangelist Clara Estella Roberta Johnson, died on June 4, 2006, in Los Angeles, California at the age of 69.