Redd Foxx Ate a Bar of Soap to Dodge the Draft

Callum Gordon
4 min readFeb 20, 2020


Have you ever wondered why Jamie Foxx is called Jamie Foxx? Now bear with me. I have wondered why Jamie Foxx is called Jamie Foxx, it’s a weird name, two Xs on the end, at least one of which seems completely perfunctory. It seems closer to a pornstar name than the actor who played Ray Charles and the taxi driver in Collateral. So, like anyone would with a mild curiosity in it, I hit Wikipedia like a ton of bricks. Turns out, Jamie Foxx’s real name is Eric Bishop. Mystery solved.

But as you go deeper into the story, each answer presents a question. That is to say, why did he pick Foxx? Answer: It was an homage to Redd Foxx, black comedian famous for being in Sanford & Son, but why did he pick Foxx? Fuck knows, it didn’t say on his Wikipedia page so I gave up and started absentmindedly looking at the rest of his page.

Soap’s Up!

And here is where it comes back around to the story at the heart of this piece. I saw one line that made me stop in my tracks and laugh out loud. To quote Wikipedia: ‘During World War II, Foxx dodged the draft by eating half a bar of soap before his physical, a trick that resulted in heart palpitations.’ And that’s it. There is no elaboration about why or how or what the fuck. That a real person should engage in such a Homer Simpson method of putting themselves through serious harm to avoid military service just seems mental, much less a soon-to-be-famous comedian. This story I could believe in a random kid whose whole Wikipedia is dedicated to being ‘That guy who ate soap so he didn’t have to fight’, but for it to be almost a footnote, brushed aside as a funny story, but ultimately a distraction on the story of a man’s life is insane.

If you search the rest of the internet for this tale, you find absolutely fuck all, just one virgin on the TIL Reddit going by the username fap-on-fap-off saying he found out the same thing as me but then fucked it up by asking for karma. Are me and fappy boy here the only ones that know or care? The last bastions of the weirdo eating a bar of soap and the potential to mine that for comedy gold in years to come for a TV writing career?

The full story, as much as I can find, is that it was half a bar of Octagon soap a decent amount of time before seeing the doctor on the draft board, he got heart palpitations which they assumed was a long-lasting condition, and this was enough to disqualify him from service in World War II. Now, the question of whether an instance of heart palpitations and the taste of 1940s soap was worth avoiding trenchfoot or running onto a beach facing machine gun fire is an obvious one. I don’t know how soap tastes now, and back then it either could have been horrifically unhealthy and toxic (the brand has since been discontinued) or it could have been full of natural goodness and a real treat to take a big bite out of it. But getting shot or developing PTSD would have deprived the world of Sanford & Son, so the soap thing looks like it was the best call.

His biography, written by Michael Seth Starr, (barely worth reading in terms of shedding light on this, other than seeing him describe conscription doctors as ‘cats’ that weren’t ‘hip’ to people sneaking a few mouthfuls of soap) describes this as ‘one of the oldest draft-dodging tricks in the book’. It’s actually frustrating how dubious this claim is, either this is wrong or it is such a good, well-kept secret that is impossible to find another record of someone else doing this no matter what combination of words you google. It’s like all these people from decades past are all laughing along at this massive in-joke and can’t believe they got this bullshit about eating soap into a book and a wikipedia article. I’ve found and brainstormed other ways of draft-dodging though. Breaking your arm and leaving it out of a cast to make yourself look disjointed is a good one, going to the draft board as two kids in a trenchcoat is bound to confuse them to some degree, and of course, el classico, the old Pretend To Be Gay (or just be gay), now THAT is worth mining for comedy gold. Or at least it would be if Adam Sandler and Kevin James hadn’t already done it.

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