John Witherspoon, ‘Friday,’ ‘Wayans Bros.’ Star, Dead at 77
John Witherspoon — the versatile actor and comedian known for his turns in movies like Friday and House Party and The Wayans Bros. sitcom — died Tuesday. He was 77.
Witherspoon’s family confirmed the actor’s death on his Twitter account, writing, “It is with deep sadness we have to tweet this, but our husband & father John Witherspoon has passed away. He was a Legend in the entertainment industry, and a father figure to all who watched him over the years. We love you ‘POPS’ always & forever.” A cause of death was not given.
It is with deep sadness we have to tweet this, but our husband & father John Witherspoon has passed away. He was a Legend in the entertainment industry, and a father figure to all who watched him over the years. We love you “POPS” always & forever.
– The Witherspoon Family pic.twitter.com/ov9P34kaMn
— John Witherspoon (@John_POPS_Spoon) October 30, 2019
Witherspoon’s son, the standup comic J.D. Witherspoon, also shared a tribute to his father, saying, “So…my Dad died today & honestly I’m not sure how to feel. I’m sad, but I’m also happy 4 all the great times we had together. We’d roast each other like homies more than Father & Son, and I really liked that. He was my best friend & my idol. Love U Dad…I’ll miss u.”
The characters Witherspoon played were often big and brash in the most delightful ways, qualities best embodied by the two famous patriarchs he portrayed: Willie Jones, the father of Ice Cube’s character, Craig, in the Friday movies, and John “Pops” Williams, dad to Shawn and Marlon Wayans’ characters on their WB sitcom, The Wayans Bros.
On Instagram, Marlon Wayans wrote of Witherspoon, “[E]xtremely 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… Anytime I want to laugh or to see you I’m gonna put on a episode of Wayans Bros. and laugh until I cry.”
Born in Detroit, Michigan, in 1942, Witherspoon got his start as a standup comic before moving into film and television. He got a big boost from Richard Pryor, who cast him on a few episodes of his short-lived sketch show, The Richard Pryor Show, although the majority of his earliest roles were one-offs in comedies like Good Times, What’s Happening!! and WKRP in Cincinnati. He also booked the occasional drama, such as Hill Street Blues and Barnaby Jones.
Witherspoon began taking more film roles in the mid-Eighties, and by the Nineties he was a comedy staple. He famously played the cantankerous neighbor Mr. Strickland in Kid and Play’s House Party, while he also appeared alongside Eddie Murphy in several films, including Boomerang, Vampire in Brooklyn and Dr. Doolittle 2. In 2004, he portrayed yet another over-the-top TV patriarch, Robert “Grandad” Freeman, in Aaron McGruder’s animated series The Boondocks.
Witherspoon was reportedly set to reprise his role as Willie Jones in Ice Cube’s next Friday film, Last Friday, but the project had yet to start filming at the time of his death. On Twitter, Ice Cube expressed his grief, saying, “I’m devastated over the passing of John Witherspoon. Life won’t be as funny without him.”
I’m devastated over the passing of John Witherspoon. Life won’t be as funny without him. pic.twitter.com/gtmiZiEppP
— Ice Cube (@icecube) October 30, 2019