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John Witherspoon, Legendary Actor And Comedian, Dead At 77

By Brian Richards | News | October 30, 2019 |

By Brian Richards | News | October 30, 2019 |


John Witherspoon, legendary actor and comedian best known for his work on the Friday trilogy, The Wayans Bros., and The Boondocks, passed away at the age of 77 at his home in Sherman Oaks, California.

Throughout his long career and with many of his performances, Witherspoon came across as the lovable and profane father/uncle/grandfather that can be found in many a Black family, the kind who you could easily hang out, crack jokes with and talk to when in need of some advice. While at the same time being the kind of crotchety old man who wouldn’t hesitate to lay down the law, put his foot down due to having zero tolerance for your bullshit, and who would crack jokes on and curse out the younger people around him for seemingly having no Act-Right, while having no Act-Right himself as he says exactly what’s on his mind without caring what anyone else says or thinks about it.

Born in Detroit, Michigan on January 27, 1942 as one of eleven siblings, Witherspoon first started out as a model, but soon showed an interest in doing stand-up comedy, which is how he met and befriended such comedians as Marsha Warfield, Tim Reid, Robin Williams, and David Letterman (who would later be asked by Witherspoon to be godfather to his sons). He first appeared in such television shows as Barnaby Jones, The Incredible Hulk, The Richard Pryor Show, Good Times, and What’s Happening?, and in films such as The Jazz Singer, Ratboy, Hollywood Shuffle, I’m Gonna Git You Sucka, and Bird.

It wasn’t until 1990 that Witherspoon started getting attention, especially from Black audiences, when he appeared in House Party as Walter Strickland, the angry and sleep-deprived neighbor who is not at all happy about the … well, house party happening next door that keeps interrupting his rest.

He soon followed that up with another memorable scene that is still quoted and referenced to this day, when he appeared in Boomerang (which was directed by House Party director Reginald Hudlin) and gave us catchphrases that Witherspoon is still known for.

Not too long after that, he cemented his status as Black comedy royalty when he appeared in Friday as Willie Jones, father to Ice Cube’s character Craig, who got fired on his day off from work, and would continue playing that role in the sequels Next Friday and Friday After Next.

He appeared as the blind man in Soul Plane (and its sequel, Soul Plane 2: The Blackjacking)…

Witherspoon went on to do guest spots on shows such as Martin and on The Fresh Prince of Bel-Air

And from 1995 to 1999, he was a series regular on The Wayans Bros. as Pops, father to Shawn and Marlon Williams (Shawn Wayans, Marlon Wayans).

In another role that gave him even more recognition, Witherspoon was the voice of Robert “Granddad” Freeman on Adult Swim’s The Boondocks opposite Regina King, who voiced Huey and Riley Freeman, from 2005 to 2014.

He also appeared in many other films including Vampire In Brooklyn, The Five Heartbeats, The Meteor Man, Bulworth, Little Man, and A Thousand Words, and in television shows such as Frank’s Place, Living Single, The Tracy Morgan Show, The First Family, Black Jesus, and Black-ish.

He was also made appearances in several music videos, like Field Mob’s video for “Sick Of Being Lonely” and Jay-Z’s video for “I Just Wanna Love U (Give It 2 Me)”

When news of John Witherspoon’s death hit Twitter last night, there were some people who were left shocked and heartbroken, while there were others who were convinced that this was all a mistake, that he was still alive and that his death was being confused with that of another John Witherspoon, who actually died back in 2017. But a close friend of J.D. Witherspoon, John’s oldest son, confirmed the news himself on Twitter, followed by J.D. doing the same on his own Twitter account. There are plenty of people who took the time to offer their kind words and condolences.

View this post on Instagram

I’m sad. Broken. Hurt.. yet extremely grateful to God that i got to spend 5 years of my life working with one of the funniest sweetest wisest humblest loving man @johnnywitherspoon you were my tv dad and my mentor and my friend. I miss you already. Something don’t feel right. This is heavy on my heart. Anyone that knows me knows how much i love pops. You have a strong wife and great kids. What an amazing family. Your boys damn near grew up on the #WayansBros set they’ll always be like my little brothers and sons. i will pass on all the jewels that you bestowed on to us. Thank you God for the many many many laughs that we shared on and off the set. You got “all the keys 🔑 ” and i know you got one to heaven’s gate. Anytime i want to laugh or to see you I’m gonna put on a episode of wayans bros and laugh until i cry. I miss already…. hope your dancing in heaven with ugly white shoes on. “Pops pops sugar pops”. #ripjohnwitherspoon #mysecondpops

A post shared by Marlon Wayans (@marlonwayans) on

One of the last interviews John Witherspoon did was for the Netflix podcast Strong Black Legends, in which its host Tracy Clayton (a.k.a. @BrokeyMcPoverty on Twitter, and co-host of the Buzzfeed podcast Another Round) sits down with African-American actors (Lynn Whitfield, Loretta Devine, Margaret Avery, Jason Weaver), comedians (Witherspoon, Garrett Morris), costume designers (Ruth E. Carter), and directors (Bill Duke, Robert Townsend) who deserve a hell of a lot more appreciation than they usually get from Hollywood and in the media. You can watch an edited version of Tracy’s interview with John Witherspoon in the link below, and then listen to it in its entirety with your chosen app for downloading and listening to podcasts.

John Witherspoon is survived by his wife, Angela Robinson-Witherspoon, and his sons, John David and Alexander.

To John Witherspoon: Thank you for just being you, for all the times that you made us laugh, and for everything that you contributed to the world of comedy.


May you rest in peace.

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Brian Richards is a Staff Contributor. You can follow him on Twitter.

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