John Witherspoon Has Passed Away At 77 Years Old
Actor John Witherspoon has died. The 77-year-old’s family confirmed the news Tuesday evening (October 29). Affectionately known as “Pops,” Witherspoon (who was born “John Weatherspoon”) is remembered for his work in the Friday franchise, and roles in The Hollywood Shuffle, I’m Gonna Git You Sucka, House Party, and others. After 1995’s first Friday film, John was a fixture on The Wayans Bros., The First Family, The Tracy Morgan Show, and provided voice work to The Boondocks and Black Jesus.
“It is with [the] deepest sorrow that we can confirm our beloved husband and father, John Witherspoon, one of the hardest working men in show business, died today at his home in Sherman Oaks, [California] at the age of 77,” Witherspoon’s family provided in a statement to Deadline. “He is survived by his wife, Angela, and his sons JD, Alexander, and a large family. 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. John used to say, ‘I’m no big deal,’ but he was [a] huge deal to us.” His cause of death has not been reported at this time.
Since the 1970s, Witherspoon pursued a career in comedy. It began in standup and expanded to television. The actor was part of the cast on The Richard Pryor Show, where he built friendships with collaborators Robin Williams and Tim Reid. John also starred in CBS cop show, Barnaby Jones. He made cameos on Good Times, WKRP In Cincinnati, and What’s Happening!!. Feature work of this kind continued in the 1980s and 1990s. By 1980’s The Jazz Singer, Witherspoon began appearing in feature films.
Although associations to the Wayans family, Eddie Murphy, and other Black comedian-actors led to more work, Friday would change Witherspoon’s career forever. Last year, John revealed that he accepted the “Willie Jones” role for a $5,000 payment. Ice Cube and DJ Pooh’s script was shot by F. Gary Gray for a total budget of $2 million. Although the salary was paltry in contrast to the film’s $300 million gross, Witherspoon negotiated nearly 100-times more money for subsequent films. He also leveraged the exposure to starring TV roles with The Wayans Bros. and others to follow.
Thanks to his work on Friday and alongside Shawn and Marlon Wayans, Witherspoon’s “Pops” moniker stemmed from his paternal roles. However, the Detroit, Michigan native reportedly offered a fatherly presence to the younger actors. Academy Award-winner Regina King, who co-starred in Friday, says he considered him a father, a grandfather, and her inspiration. Marlon Wayans called Witherspoon his mentor and television father in a heartfelt social media post.
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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
Meanwhile, Ice Cube wrote on social media that he was “devastated” by the news. Reports had been suggesting that Witherspoon and Cube may be reuniting for a fourth and final Friday film, 25 years after both actor’s Hollywood careers changed from the debut.
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
In 2008, Witherspoon returned to standup comedy. Apart from that, film, and television, he appeared in Rap music videos from JAY-Z, LL Cool J, Field Mob, and Goodie Mob. Witherspoon also appeared in Dr. Dre and Fab 5 Freddy’s 1994 Murder Was The Case short film.
Ambrosia For Heads extends condolences to John Witherspoon’s family, friends, and fans.