Demond Wilson, star of the iconic trend-setting TV show of the 1970s, "Sanford & Son," will trace his journey from the TV screen to the pulpit as the keynote speaker at the 2014 Florida Chautauqua Assembly in DeFuniak Springs.
"God still calls people," Wilson told The Sun during a phone interview. "I was called from birth. From the time I was a little child I had a God consciousness. Being in the ministry is a calling, not a vocation."
Wilson told The Sun he will speak about his background and how the "Sanford & Son" series changed the TV industry. The "Sanford & Son" series, starring Wilson and Redd Fox, ran from 1972-1977, and represented a breakthrough for African American actors.
However, Wilson looks back on that time with bittersweet memories.
Wilson's role as Lamont Sanford is the role for which he is best known.
Wilsonís journey to the TV stage and ministry began with service in the U.S. Army in Vietnam from 1966-1968. He is a decorated veteran.
"It's something I don't like to talk about," he said.
On returning home from Vietnam, Wilson sought work on Broadway, a place he knew well. He appeared in several Broadway and off-Broadway productions before moving to Hollywood where he appeared in "Mission: Impossible" and "All in the Family," and a couple of films.
Before one audition, Wilson made his second promise to God. His first was made when as a child in Harlem he almost died of a ruptured appendix. He knew then that if God allowed him to live, he wanted to serve him in some way.
This second time, many years later, he told God, "If I get this part, it will bring fame. If I get it I will do this for 15 years, then I'll serve you."
Fifteen years later to the week, in 1983 Wilson kept his promises.
He established a worldwide ministry of speaking about something he says is close to his heart and has since preached the gospel around the world and ministered to troubled young men. He founded Restoration House of America in 1995 for the rehabilitation of former prison inmates.
"I minister to men who haven't done anything real bad, but just made mistakes," he said.
Wilson worked at his ministry until 2004, when he said God told him to start writing, which he did. He has now written 11 children stories, two screenplays and a sitcom. His book, "The New Age Millennium: An Expose of Symbols, Slogans and Hidden Agendas" is in its second printing and is used in theological classes. His latest book is "Second Banana: The Bitter Sweet Memoirs of the Sanford and Son Years."
These days, Wilson said he mostly speaks at educational seminars, such as Chautauqua.
He lives in California's mountains overlooking the Palm Springs desert with his wife of 40 years. They have six grown children ó four daughters, two sons and three grandchildren.
Wilson said he has been all over the state of Florida, but never to the Panhandle. He looks forward to seeing if it is as beautiful as it is in pictures. While here, he plans to visit the beach and do some golfing.
Kicking off its theme of "A Journey into the World of Motion Pictures," Wilson will speak at Walton High School in DeFuniak Springs Jan. 24 at 9 a.m. A limited number of tickets to his featured keynote presentation are available for $15 and can be purchased by calling the Florida Chautauqua Center at 892-7613, or online at www.floridachautauquaassembly.org.
One-hundred people can upgrade their ticket to $50 for the opportunity to be invited backstage immediately following his presentation at 10 a.m. to have a picture made with him and receive an autographed copy of his "Second Banana" book.
"If people want to know about me, tell them that I am an affable, congenial man, a decorated veteran who served our country honorably, and a family man married to the same woman for 40 years," he said.