By People Staff
Updated June 15, 1999 12:00 AM

Esther Rolle, who played the feisty maid Florida Evans in the hit 1970s sitcom “Maude” and the strong-willed mother who kept her poor family together in the spin-off series “Good Times,” died Tuesday at the age of 78. The cause of death has not yet been determined, but she had diabetes and was undergoing dialysis. Rolle was born in Pompano Beach FL, the 10th of 18 children. Her father was a vegetable farmer. She began her theatrical career performing skits for her younger siblings and, after high school, followed her actress sister Rosanna Carter to New York, where she became one of the early members of the Negro Ensemble Company. In 1990, Rolle became the first woman to receive the NAACP Chairman’s Civil Rights Leadership Award for helping raise the image of blacks.

  • During a recent photo shoot for an upcoming issue of PEOPLE Magazine, Rolle (looking and sounding a lot like she did in her TV days, albeit a bit thinner and slightly less sassy) talked about having just turned 78. “I’m glad about that, very happy,” she said. “For some reason, when I was younger, I never thought I’d live to be 50.”