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Marlene Clark, 'Sanford and Son' Actress, Dead at 85: 'An Extraordinary Woman'

Marlene Clark — who also appeared in films including 'Slaughter,' 'Ganja & Hess,' and 'Switchblade Sisters' — died at her home in Los Angeles on May 18

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Marlene Clark, best known for her role on Sanford and Son and Ganja & Hess, has died. She was 85.

The actress died at her home in Los Angeles on May 18, her friend Tamara Lynch confirmed to PEOPLE.

Lynch told PEOPLE that the late actress was "an extraordinary woman," adding, "If you knew Marlene, you knew that the one thing that she had was grit. She was a very small-statured woman, really thin. She almost looked like a Black Polynesian, she was just so exotic. Then she had this deep, cavernous voice. When she spoke, it was such a command of attention."

Lynch also shared that Clark maintained her work ethic until her death.

"She was tenacious in her love of art, film, and expression," she explained. "Really, to the day she died, if she had an audition, Marlene would've gone to the audition. She would've done anything. She was one of those die-hard old-school actors, performers, Hollywood people. You do the work. You show up. You know your lines, and then you go home and you go back, and you do it the next day."

She added that when Clark "walked in the room, she just raised the bar."

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Lynch admits that although her friend may not have been recognizable to some, her impact is still felt in the entertainment industry.

"She's one of the people who get lost in the cracks," she said. "She's part of the people who kicked down these doors, and there was no predecessor to what she was doing. Everything was blind. So everything she's doing is the first. So she's being in these films with these Black filmmakers and these Black actors and these Black writers and creating this movement."

One of Clark's most memorable roles was playing Lamont’s (Demond Wilson) love interest Janet Lawson on Sanford and Son. Wilson remembered the late star on Twitter, writing, “RIP beautiful actress Marlene Clark. . . It was a delight to work with you.”

Prior to her role on Sanford and Son, Clark made her film debut in 1968 with a small part in the romantic comedy For Love of Ivy, which starred Sidney Poitier and Beau Bridges. She also landed a role in Putney Swope, which was directed by Robert Downey Sr.

Clark went on to star opposite Duane Jones in the horror film Ganja & Hess. In a 2011 interview with Temple of Schlock, she recalled her experience working on the film.

“There are so many levels to her personality. She’s such a collection of contradictions,” she shared of portraying Ganga. “Playing that part was very rewarding. And Duane was a treat to work with. He did a terrific job.”

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The New York native also appeared in films including Slaughter, Switchblade Sisters, Night of the Cobra Woman, The Beast Must Die, Enter the Dragon, Black Mamba, and The Baron.

Clark returned to the small screen for roles on Head of the Class, Flamingo Road, Highway to Heaven, and Barnaby Jones. 

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