Actor and Comedian John Witherspoon Dies at 77

John Witherspoon passes away at age 77. The comic is best known for portraying father figures in television and film over the past several decades.

John Witherspoon in Friday

Actor John Witherspoon dies suddenly in California. The popular character actor is best known for playing father figures in the 1995 comedy Friday and The WB series The Wayans Bros. Witherspoon was 77 years old. 

Born and raised in Detroit, Witherspoon had long been part of the entertainment industry. His older brother William Witherspoon wrote songs for Motown Records, most notably David Ruffin’s 1966 single “What Becomes of the Brokenhearted.” During the same time period, John Witherspoon commenced a career in stand-up comedy, and ultimately made his television debut in 1977 on The Richard Pryor Show. He subsequently received bit parts on mainstream series like What’s Happening!! and Good Times, shortly before crossing over into feature films with The Jazz Singer in 1980. Eddie Murphy fans may remember Witherspoon for performances in Boomerang and Vampire in Brooklyn, and the actor became even more famous in the ‘90s by starring in the aforementioned Friday and The Wayans Bros., portraying Willie Jones and Pops, respectively. In recent years, Witherspoon voiced Granddad Freeman on Adult Swim’s The Boondocks. 

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Per Deadline, Witherspoon passed away suddenly at his home in Sherman Oaks, California. The actor’s family confirmed the news and stated, “We are all in shock, please give us a minute for a moment in privacy and we will celebrate his life and his work together.” In 2019, Witherspoon returned to feature films after seven years away, appearing in I Got the Hook Up 2 and Reality Queen. Witherspoon had also been busy with voice acting, as he portrayed Lloyd on Black Jesus and appeared in one episode of Adult Swim’s The Jellies! Witherspoon had reportedly been active on the stand-up comedy circuit as well. The actor’s family also stated, “John used to say ‘I’m no big deal’, but he was huge deal to us.” Witherspoon married Angela Robinson in 1988 and had two sons, J.D. and Alexander. 

Witherspoon had planned to reprise his role as Willie Jones in the upcoming franchise film Last Friday. In 1995, F. Gary Gray’s franchise-starter, Friday, launched the career of Chris Tucker, and made Ice Cube more visible in pop culture beyond his solo recording career and association with the groundbreaking hip-hop group N.W.A. Witherspoon returned for the 2000 sequel Next Friday, along with the third installment Friday After Next in 2002. 

On Twitter, the phrase “Not Pops” is trending in the United States as Witherspoon’s fans, friends, and collaborators mourn his death. Ice Cube stated, “I’m devastated over the passing of John Witherspoon. Life won’t be as funny without him,” while actor David Alan Grier tweeted, “RIP my brother. You will be missed. Mannnnnnn this is a hard one.” 

In pop culture, Witherspoon may be known for playing older characters, but his influence extends across various demographics. Based on social media reactions to the actor's death, Witherspoon was clearly adored for various reasons, whether it’s his famous film roles, recent TV appearances, or just his way of stealing a scene wherever he showed up. 

More: 10 Comedy Actors From The 90s We Wish Were Still Making Movies

Source: Deadline, Ice Cube, David Alan Grier

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